Reverend Horton Heat
with Junior Brown and The Blasters
House of Blues, Orlando FL • 12-22-2017
by Carl F Gauze
It’s nearly Christmas, and Orlando celebrates by driving to Downtown Disney and circling for hours looking for parking. It’s so heartwarming, a true holiday tradition here in Central Florida. Luck shined on me and presented me with a spot in what looked like a construction staging area. It was striped, not marked “No Parking,” and got me close to the club. My holiday good luck continued; the House of Blues press system quickly got me in as soon as their NSA-level identity form was filled out. Inside the venue, the older crowd favored tattoos and band T-shirts for the guys and the gals went for vintage clothes, up-swept hairdos, and a bit too much lipstick. I went with an “Anvil” tee and got a surprising number of compliments. As show time approached, the crowd felt like the right size for the venue: great energy, but open enough to allow free movement. I felt I could escape in the event of a fire.
The Blasters appeared on the dot of eight; they’re one of the great roots rockers to come out of the early ’80s New Wave scene. Their fired-up blend of rockabilly, R&B and roots music made them pop on KROQ or whatever cool station kept your teenaged musical juices flowing in the day. If you ever saw Peter Ivers New Wave Theater, the theme music came as The Blasters “American Music.” Lead Singer Phil Alvin looked a bit rough, but sounded great on vocals. Bassist John Bazz always looked concerned, and guitarist Keith Wyatt looked calm and in control. Tonight’s set covered all the hits including “Long White Cadillac”, “Marie, Marie,” and the blazing tribute to over-powered Mexican top 40 AM stations “Boarder Radio.” More than a few songs I didn’t recognize floated by as well; these guys are still in great form.
Set changes were quick and efficient, and the next act came on quickly and was new to me. Junior Brown started recording in the late ’80s; he’s a country sensation and standout with his “Guit-Steel” guitar. This odd instrument combines a regular six string electric guitar and a lap steel guitar. It looks awkward to play, but he’s master it and can get the most amazing sound out of the instrument. As to Junior, he looks exactly what a country singer ought to. There’s a trademark white cowboy hat with turned up side brim; it keeps the lights out of his eyes and makes it hard to see his face in a show. Backing him is his wife on rhythm guitar; she’s just sparkly enough to look county, but not to upstage hubby.
About 10:30 The Reverend Horton Heat took the stage along with his boys. They tuned up with an oddly moving “We Three Kings of Orient Are” then we plunged in to a high energy opening set with “Big Sky,” “Baddest of the Bad” and the landmark “Psychobilly Freak Out.” I won’t say the crowd was freaked out, but we were on our feet, and not just because this is a standing only show. The next highlight involves “Big Jimbo”. Jimbo Wallace plays standup bass and he’s a big man, big enough to wrestle a stand up to the ground. The Rev is packed with Jimbo stories, including the night he cut himself on a broken string and sprayed blood everywhere yet kept playing. Some of that blood landed on the president of Sub Pop records, and led to a music deal. Now that’s rock and roll.
Late in the set a largish gentleman with sliced back hair joined the show; that’s Big Sandy of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys. His songs took a slower, less heart-pounding tone and peaked with the break up tune “I Can’t Believe I’m Saying This to You.” By now we approached midnight, my legs were tired, and the crowd thinned noticeably. But the Rev fired up the crowd to closing energy with the favorite “Bales of Cocaine” and a super-charged cover of “Ace of Spades”. An encore lay ahead, but it was time to leave. I slipped out into the humid Disney Springs winter night, wended my way through a mostly empty parking lot to find my car safe and sound. Now all I needed to get home was the skills to win at that real-life Super Mario video game we call “I-4 under construction.”