Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Opening band beats Heat and Repeat

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Reverend Horton Heat began his Sunday-night show at Top Cat's in a familiar way. First came "Reverend Horton Heat's Big Blue Car," followed by "Galaxy 500" and "Like a Rocket."

That was the same sequence with which he opened his March 2002 show at Bogart's. In fact, there wasn't much different between the two performances.

A cruel observer would note the Reverend is a rockabilly cartoon unable to transcend a novelty act. A more gracious voice would say he's no different than the Jerry Lee Lewises and such who precede him - a hillbilly rocker with an act worth repeating.

Either way, the show beat last year's on one key point. Top Cat's is a much more intimate room than it's bigger Short Vine neighbor to the south. And Heat and his two-man band of upright bassist Jimbo Wallace and drummer Scott Churilla thrived in the smaller setting, delivering their brand of revved-up rockabilly with taut precision in an hour-and-45-minute show.

Yes, it seems he's doing the right thing by repeating again and again the same set. The near-sellout crowd delighted in those familiar tunes like "Nurture My Pig," "Marijuana," "It's Martini Time," "Psychobilly Freakout" and "Jimbo Song."

But then again, his newest song fortifies the rockabilly-cartoon argument. In the middle of his set Heat played "Hey, Johnny Bravo," a musical tribute to the Cartoon Network animated star.

Speaking of animated, Those Legendary Shack Shakers, the second of two opening bands, put on the show of the night, using the same rockabilly template as the Rev but putting it to a more thrilling use.

The four-piece band from Nashville has just released a record on the Bloodshot label, and the Shack Shakers look poised for big things. Covers of Little Jimmy Dickens' "Salty Boogie" and Slim Harpo's "Shake Your Hips" framed their hillbilly-blues sound, while singer J.D. Wilkes' harmonica playing and wild stage antics set the group apart.

Wilkes, who could be fairly described as a puny man, had his shirt off by the second song and soon after was swinging from piping attached to the ceiling above the stage.

Guitarist Joe Buck might have been recognized as Hank Williams III's bass player. A sharper observer might have spotted Buck's guitar amp and cabinet as those Duane Denison (a Hank III alum himself) used as a member of Jesus Lizard.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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