In Texas, there are a few things you can count on: good BBQ, high school football, and the full-custom gospel sounds of the Reverend Horton Heat. Now in its third year, the Elm Street Music and Tattoo Festival, brings together punk-rock, tattoo’s and tattoo enthusiasts. Spread across three venues in Dallas’ Deep Ellum neighborhood, tonight the Rev plays at the Bomb Factory (also the site of a dozen or so tattoo artists from across the nation primed and prepped to do their thing).
I arrived a couple of hours before the Rev’s set and scoped out the tattoo artists working and/or waiting for work around the periphery of the venue. Numerous individuals were getting tattooed, mingling about, or selling their art (t-shirts, stickers, etc) as opening act Mariachi El Bronx admirably warmed-up the crowd. The crowd seemed almost equal in gender, in terms of attendance; and I noticed more women getting tattoo’s than men (for those 30 minutes I was paying attention, anyway). Rockabilly chicks, biker-dudes, and punks were common, but style aside, the crowd was in a celebratory mood.
I have seen the Reverend Horton Heat probably 12-15 times in my life. Prior to tonight, those occasions occurred about 15-20 years ago. Make no mistake, growing up in Dallas, the Rev ranks high in my personal pantheon of local musicians. Unlike Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott of Pantera, or Mike Scaccia of Rigor Mortis/Ministry, the Rev is a Dallas-Fort Worth guitar legend who’s still alive. Guitar legend, sure. The Rev is a songwriter, front man, and pioneer of Dallas and Texas music for the last 30 years. I consider it a privilege to see the Rev, even if it has been a while.
The Rev and crew (Jimbo Wallace on bass, Scott Churilla on drums) ran through an hour long set that spanned classics, new songs, and a couple of covers. “The Devils Chasing Me,” “Baddest of the Bad,” and “Marijuana” reinforced their timeless nature by fitting in seamlessly along side tracks like “Zombie Dumb” from the 2014 album Rev. New song or old, the Rev’s guitar playing was clean and crisp alongside the always sharp and swingin’ Wallace/Churilla rhythm section.
Midway through the set, the Rev swapped instruments with bassist Jimbo Wallace for a barn-burning cover of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” The trio also threw in a raucous cover of Johnny Cash’s “Big River.” “400 Bucks” (a Rev classic/fan favorite) was searing on this night, just as it was every other time I’ve seen it played (going back 20 years). The Rev and his band haven’t lost a step. What’s most impressive is that they seem just as enthused and inspired as the always have.
Each member of the band was in typical top-notch form, which is one of the things you can always count in from the Reverend Horton Heat. Churilla’s spot-on drumming, Jimbo’s relentless bass, and the Rev’s cool-as-ice, hot-as-hell guitar playing combine for an incredible set. The crowd was dancing, there was a semi-mosh pit for about 90 seconds, and smiles were plastered all over the crowd and the bands faces. Simply put, seeing the Reverend Horton Heat live is a treat. If you’re in Dallas, TX for New Year’s Eve, The Rev is playing at the Gas Monkey Live. For those readers outside of the great City of Dallas, he’s touring all the time. Don’t miss it.
– J. Kevin Lynch