Two Reverends Tour: Reverend Horton Heat and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Yesterday night I attended the Reverend Horton Heat and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band show at the Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown, Pennsylvania. It was admittedly the best show I have gone to since the Bob Log III show last summer in Brooklyn, and before that The Goddamn Gallows show at The Sterling.
Allentown, the third most populous city in the state of Pennsylvania, is a festering cold sore on the lip of the East Coast. As a small, gray metropolis built over what was once seemingly endless acres of farmland, save for Allentown’s downtown area (which has fallen victim to urban decay in recent years), is more and more a poorly constructed mess of structures and roads. Quite simply, it is one of those small cities that has gone from boom to bust, the signs of it in the abandoned buisnesses and dilapidated buildings and litter-strewn streets.
Crocodile Rock Cafe (referred to by the locals as Croc Rock) is downtown, on 6th & Hamilton, between the courthouse and a drug rehabilitation center. For the most part, Croc Rock’s main quality as a venue is that it is pretty much the only remaining venue in Allentown, indeed in the whole Lehigh Valley, where one can see bands such as Reverend Horton Heart and Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. And because they are one of the last venues in the area, they also charge rather inflated prices for shows.
Indiana country blues trio Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band took the stage a little before 9 p.m. The usual lineup: Breezy Peyton on washboard, Aaron “Cuz” Persinger on drums, and of course Reverend Peyton himself on guitar and vocals. There is never any mistaking Reverend Peyton, with his big dark beard, suspenders, and newsboy cap – the very embodiment of rural America. Alternating between resonator guitar for bottleneck slide and a standard acoustic for a few songs, the remarkably talented Reverend Peyton performed six-string feats which sent the audience into whooping and hollering frenzies, and once or twice left them momentarily silent and open-mouthed. At one point he even broke out a three-string cigar box guitar a fan had given him in Tennessee, on which he played a song I had never heard before. And throughout the set, as he played guitar, he perfectly delivered his deep, inimitable vocals.
On a minimal drum setup and upside down five-gallon bucket Persinger kept the beat like a pro, occasionally smashing away on the kit to accompany the more empassioned playing of the Reverend and Breezy.
Breezy’s hands busily worked the washboard the entire time, save for the few moments it was on fire, after which she turned it over and repeatedly hit the attached splash cymbal. At key points in a few songs she also provided backup vocals, proving that she actually has a pretty decent singing voice.
“Train Song,” “Your Cousin’s On Cops,” “Mama’s Fried Potatoes,” and “Everything’s Raising” were just a few of the songs on their set list. But the crowd never got as stoked during the course of their set as when they played “Clap Your Hands,” during which the crowed enthusiastically participated; and then the wild “Two Bottles of Wine,” which was still impressive without singer/songwriter Jason Webley, with whom Peyton collaborated for the recording of the song.
All in all, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band put on an engaging show, while keeping the grand spirit of country blues alive. And it occurred to me as I watched them play, they have the energy and catchiness of Bob Log III’s wild slide guitar blues and the authenticity of C.W. Stoneking’s more traditional blues. And to boot, they don’t use any loop devices or added effects, “only instruments and speakers,” as Reverend Peyton himself said that night. And that is a rather refreshing way to experience today’s take on the blues.
As a side note, according to Peyton, it was actually a small miracle they made it to Allentown at all, since the band’s tour van had blown a head gasket two days prior…”which for anyone who knows anything about vehicles, ” he said, “that means it died.” But they made it, and not only my show experience but that of many in attendance were surely better for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band’s fun and impressive performance.
Celebrating his 25 year anniversary as an active artist, Texas rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat took the stage not an hour later, clad in the sort of Grand Ole Opry meets television evangelist suit we’ve all become so accustomed to seeing him wear, and with his signature Gretsch guitar slung over his shoulder. Joining him on stage, of course, were upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Paul Simmons. Without much of an introduciton – no introduction is ever truly needed for Reverend Horton Heat, after all – the trio went straight into their set, playing two songs from Heat’s debut album Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em. After those two songs he explained that because of the 25 year anniversary the band would play chronologically, doing a song or two from each album. And that’s how they proceeded, doing two songs from Full Custom Gospel, It’s Martini Time, and then one song from 1998’s Space Heater. At that point they decided to go off track and play four songs from the latest album, Laughin’ and Cryin’, which were executed flawlessly, even when Jimbo laid down his bass and Heat played standing on its side. Finally, towards the end of their long set, Heat simply took requests that were shouted out by people in the audience, which led to both old and new songs in his extensive repertoire, including “Wiggle Stick,” “Bad Reputation,” “Psychobilly Freakout,” and a wicked version of “It’s a Dark Day.”
Reverend Horton Heat attracts a melting pot audience to almost any venue, from punks and rockabilly cats to swing kids and bikers, as well as those with no scene allegiance to speak of and a few old-timers who have been listening since Heat began his career in the late 80s. Suffice to say, the people in attendance were many and varied. Be that as it may, we all seemed to share one thing in common: our enthusiasm for the bands performing that night.
When playing live, the Reverend Horton Heat trio can be compared to a freight train chuggin’ on down the tracks at full speed, smokin’ and roarin’. The songs are high energy and tightly executed, aggressive and yet catchy, distorted and yet in possession of plenty of twang, bold and involved and fiery. Heat’s technical guitar playing and hip vocal delivery is greatly enhanced by Jimbo’s thundering basslines and Simmons’ precise drumming. And it is apparent that Heat has been at it for twenty-five years. Now, my generation didn’t have any Elvis Presleys or Johnny Cashes; nor did it have any Charlie Feathers or Carl Perkins or Link Wrays; but it did have a few artists that were, if not quite as awesome, still pretty damn worthwhile…and Reverend Horton Heat is definitely one of those artists.
Lastly, If you are on the East Coast, more specifically on the eastern side of Pennsylvania, the Reverends play tonight at The Theatre of Living Arts on South Street in Philadelphia. For me, the performances and music were well worth the twenty-two dollar entry fee and the few five dollar lagers I drank. Take it from me, this is one show you don’t want to miss. After that they will be moving on to Washington DC and Cleveland, and so on. Who knows if these two artists will ever tour together again. And besides, one only gets to attend one Reverend Horton Heat 25 Year Anniversay Tour show. So don’t miss your chance.
*Photo (top) by Kathleen Harkins