Reviews

Reverend Horton Heat + Nashville Pussy

Jason Rae
Reverend Horton Heat + Nashville Pussy

Reverend Horton Heat + Nashville Pussy

City: New York
Venue: Irving Plaza
Date: 2002-03-14

Reverend Horton Heat
Nashville Pussy
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.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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