[18 May 2011]
For three dizzying decades, the Hickoids have been the cream of the crop of Texas musical rowdiness, stirring up cowpunk hootenannies, take-no-prisoners satire, and mutant twang and southern rock ’n roll. In fact, the Hickoids invoke their own genre, since they fit no categories, nor do they feign to fit any trends. They are alone, like cyclones, and this time they seek mayhem right smack dab in the middle of British Invasion standards culled from the Who, Rolling Stones, and Elton John on their new covers album Kicking It With the Twits.
The bluesy, laid-back harmonica hollerin’ of “Pictures of Lily” yanks the Mod hipness of the Who out from underneath Pete Townshend’s shaggy hairdo and injects whiskey-breath swaggers that wallow in stupor and stomp. It’s careening, not calculated, and charged-up as any San Antonio roadhouse could muster. In more up-tempo flair, they tackle “Have You Seen You Mother Baby, Standing in the Shadow?” with organ bliss-outs and slapdash honky-tonk, kickin’ round the Mick Jagger territory with fine form, single-handedly making the dusty Rolling Stones 45 record feel re-animated in their raw hands.
Pumping up each tune with plenty of aplomb, they ain’t no limp cover band but more like ruckus rousers, using each tune to slay boredom, especially in the digital era of iTunes plastic perfection. They are guerrilla fighters dabbling in analog anarchy, turning the Move’s “Brontosaurus” from a bass-heavy, funky piece of soul rock into a shimmering electric glam-rock meltdown. You can feel the tight polyester pants explode as singer Jeff Smith’s hips undulate. Continuing in that Top of the Pop vein, they snag their hooks on “Gudbuy T’ Jane”, a dirty slab of bubblegum rock from Slade that rollicks and rolls close to the bone of the original.
However, “Bennie and the Jets” from once-lurid Elton John, a song that is a saucy staple of the Hickoids’ slinky live shows, undergoes deep transformation, ending up like tobacco-packed country rock with David Bowie overtones. It invokes swaying stadiums, stoned fans grasping lighters flung into the humid night, and beer-sloshed singalongs. Slow as molasses, deeply grooved, and loud as Alice Cooper, they engineer it to near-perfection.
I never quite understood the Clash’s longtime affection for Mott the Hoople, but at least the Hickoids make “Whizz Kidd” feel as American as Schlitz beer. It becomes a white trash opus, swooning in pedal steel guitar and woozy keyboards. They quickly move forward, though, to “Needles in the Camel’s Eye”, turning the rather artful, Velvet Underground-ish Brian Eno tune into a pounding, voluminous balls-out rocker.
To wrap up their toxic mixology, they wield a tough-as-nails version of the Damned’s “Neat, Neat Neat”. Slowing it down, they layer echoey vocals, add buzzsaw guitar riffage, and basically make it a mobile home worthy American shitkicker ready for all-night porch parties. Just recall sludgy Mudhoney records you once yanked to your heart with grubby paws.
Kicking It With the Twits is a mangy new chapter in the Hickoids’ pantheon, replete with roiling rockers from the sweltering 1960s and 1970s in tow. Still crankin’ hits, this time from the jukebox in Dixie-on-acid style, they have reloaded the freak van, donned stinky hot pants, and raised their howls in this newfangled world of redux New Wave, fake soul music, and overwrought cheesy pop. You may not grasp their humor or sincere stabs, but they carry on, regardless, like sexed-up soldiers of the dank Lone Star night.