Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Reverend Horton Heat at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

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One of the best parts about going to a Reverend Horton Heat show is just sitting back and seeing the crowd. Skinheads, greasers, played the show in support of no new material, with no publicity surrounding a new DVD or compilation, but rather the Reverend Horton Heat played because it’s the band’s job. Unlike many groups who have the luxury of taking time off the road to write and record new music, Jim Heath, Jimbo Wallace and Paul Simmons live the life of working musicians and play countless shows each year to support that fact. This show being one of them.

Gear-heads and hipsters alike all seem to come together when the Rev comes to town. Add in the diverse fans of the eclectic Chicago-based Celtic-punkers The Tossers and retro-chic Murder by Death and the crowd alone is more interesting than most opening bands.

The mood was energetic as The Tossers hit the stage and front man Tony Duggins laid into his mandolin. A few rowdy fans began jumping around and singing in unison, setting the tempo for the show.

The band, made up of traditional instrumentalists, included bassist Dan Shaw, guitarist Mike Pawula and the drummer known as Bones as well as Rebecca Manthe on fiddle and Aaron Duggins on the tin whistle. Though general comparisons can be made to any Celt-punk group along the lines of Flogging Molly, The Tossers offered a soulful approach to the genre as Tony Duggins’ voice seemed to speak for his entire ancestry.

There was an unmistakable Irish tension on stage that kept the chemistry lively. As Tony Duggins slurred his way through a variety of anecdotes before and after the songs, the band seemed to gaze at him as if to say, “This is our living, please don’t fuck it up.” Rebecca Manthe seemed like an older sister looking after her drunken brothers. Aaron Duggins would continually blow the smoke from his cigarette at her and lean his mic over to her, taunting a background vocal retort out of her while she banged away at her fiddle.

And so began the setting for an amazing show.

As The Tossers’ fans faded to the back, a new crowd, brandishing Murder by Death T-shirts, made its way towards the body of the stage.

A stunning Sarah Balliet made her way out on stage and, with a flower in her hair, took residence by her keyboard. Murder by Death lead singer Adam Turla, bassist Matt Armstrong and drummer Dagan Thogerson accompanied her. As the songs moved forward, Balliet would abruptly transition between her keyboard and electric cello, which added an amazing depth to the band’s sound. It was as though Rasputina had grown guitars (and a male singer). While Turla kept the crowd at ease with his deep muffled tone, Balliet stole the show on this night with her vivacious thrusts and musicianship. Watching her play allowed me to reminisce of the Led Zeppelin DVD The Song Remains the Same where Robert Plant would tantalize the crowd with his on stage sexuality.

Then, as quickly as the set started, it was over and giving way for what would be a Texas-grown gospel revival led by Jim Heath, otherwise known as the Reverend Horton Heat.

As The Tossers and Murder by Death are to making one want to go home and write songs about their lives, Reverend Horton Heat is to making one want to be a rock star. But not just a rock star, a rock and roll star.

Starting with Sub Pop during grunge’s heyday the group was never given its full due or respect as it wasn’t categorized in a generally appealing genre. Nonetheless, over time the group built a truly loyal fan base out of its updated rockabilly sound that would later serve as the blueprints for groups such as Tiger Army and The Horrorpops.

Over the course of the evening, the group began taking requests from the crowd, something I hadn’t personally seen them do before. This allowed fans a taste for such favorites as “Galaxie 500” and “It’s Martini Time,” both of which got the entire crowd dancing around the floor at First Avenue like overmedicated school children.

The important thing to consider though was that while the band played a number of expected songs and hit its usual stage spots, which included the ever-entertaining bass-surf, the band still was not a parody of itself. They could have easily slipped into Reverend Horton Heat playing its greatest hits-mode, but by managing which songs were and weren’t played (see: me screaming my request for “Couch Surfin’”) there still seemed a sense of spontaneity which doesn’t typically travel with a traveling band. At this point in time it’s almost irrelevant as to whether the band is touring in support of new music or not, fans will gather. But if the band were to release a new album, those same fans would have shown up with a few new lyrics memorized and willing to raise hell on an entirely new level.

Given that this show in the main room was absolutely packed, it will be most interesting to see what goes down as the Reverend returns with Murder By Death in August for a pair of shows; this time at The Entry.

[This article first appeared on How Was the Show.]