[29 March 2002]
Reverend Horton Heat
As I arrive at the Irving Plaza just a few minutes before Nashville Pussy are to begin their show, I am handed one of the evening’s “VIP” passes (a strange honor which for some reason seems terribly awkward to display on my jacket, so I decide to stick it on the less-conspicuous surface of my bag instead). I find the designated VIP area packed with Hell’s Angels types, and feeling awkward yet again opt for the other section, the main floor where I was to watch the spectacle with the LIPs (the less important people). I briefly ponder on the demographic component of the Nashville Pussy/Reverend Horton Heat audience—hardly Heavy Metal Parking Lot, but seeped in some sort of hardcore aesthetics nonetheless—and before I even reach any sort of educated conclusions, Nashville Pussy are tearing through their first song. I then remember why I had come out tonight: to witness some of the (allegedly) best rock music of the day.
Frankly, it’s been a long time since I had seen a band rock out with the intensity displayed by Nashville Pussy. Any critic would be hard-pressed to say this band does not succeed in their obvious intention, which is made explicit even to someone like me, who just happens to stumble upon their show one night: it is impossible to talk about Nashville Pussy without using superlatives tossed up with words like “raw”, “dirty”, “Southern”, etc. to describe their aesthetic/shtick. In short, Nashville Pussy have adopted the old stereotypes of those rowdy cultures below the Mason-Dixon and cranked them up to staggering levels.
Case in point: After a few hard-rocking songs where the quartet give it their all with classic rock riffs and brutish lyrics (what else could we expect from a band that bears this name with the sincerest of prides?), singer/songwriter Blaine Cartwright takes the opportunity to give a little background information on the next song to his adoring audience. The subject is “drugs”. He screams his theory about assholes who, when they indulge in taking them, become even bigger assholes. The crowd answers in agreement with huge roars, whistling, anxious bullhorns, and the band begins playing the aptly-named “You Give Drugs a Bad Name”, dedicated to super assholes everywhere. After a few more hard-rocking songs, lead guitarist Ruyter Suys is stripped down to her bra, and she begins to blaze through a seriously awesome solo as the rest of the band drops out. Blaine puts down his axe and grabs a longneck bottle of beer, which he then proceeds to empty over Ruyter’s breasts (in this context, though, the appropriate term would be “tits”), at which point, of course, the audience goes apeshit. After indulging in the simple organic pleasures of wet t-shirt contest antics, Blaine continues in the same vein by inserting the bottle into Ruyter’s mouth, and she drinks while he thrusts the bottle in and out of her mouth, simulating—you guessed it—oral sex. Ruyter, though, is an expert at multi-tasking; she’s still playing her guitar like a maniac. Blaine then concludes this highlight moment in the spectacle, picks up his guitar again, and the band finishes the set without losing any intensity.
In the end, I can say that Nashville Pussy put on one great show. They take it to the max in a way that to some of the fans perhaps seems like a natural display of good ol’ Southern raunchiness, but to others might seem like a contrived, well-calculated formula of sex (that sells), combined with a rock sound that will forever please an audience. In short, Nashville Pussy revisits “sex, drugs and rock n’ roll” in its most literal and uncomplicated sense .
The old rock ‘n’ roll formula is reconceptualized in a different way in the form of the Reverend Horton Heat’s band. This trio of talented musicians (the Reverend is accompanied by “Jimbo” on bass, and Scott Churrilla on drums) traces its influences back to Dick Dale and bygone eras of country music, rockabilly, and punk (the Cramps being their most obvious influence). The persona of the Reverend is quite interesting: when I first gazed at him, I imagined being in the set of a David Lynch (i.e., eerie) 1950s period piece, where the Bill Haley and the Comets-like band is replaced by a strange, eternally-smiling Texan playing now bluegrass, now punk tunes on his guitar. Surely theories of postmodern nostalgia, intertextuality and appropriation could be very appropriate when discussing the phenomenon that is The Reverend, but I wonder how many fans are up to the challenge when they just want to have a good time. Like Nashville Pussy, the Reverend plays songs about key themes: women, drugs, and rocking out (one particular crowd pleaser was the song “Marijuana”). Like with Nashville Pussy, the formula works out easily and brilliantly with the Reverend; the trio plays flawlessly and energetically, always treating those timeless themes of Southern exuberance and downright decadence with an eager combination of rock styles that will undoubtedly please even the worst skeptics. And it seems absolutely everyone had a good time as the three-piece performed hits from records old and new, culminating in the greatest hit of all, “Psychobilly Freakout”, a song title that beautifully describes the entire night.