Monday, January 21, 2008

The Alchemy of Texas: Reverend Horton Heat with Nashville Pussy

The first understanding I had of Texas was as an arrangement of irreducibles. I was in Adairs for the first time when that happened and the Boys Named Sue had just begun a set that would stretch well into the night. The room was packed with rockabillies and Texas geezers. The rest of the space was taken up by Shiner and country music. It was then, as a disillusionment that left one with only alcohol, rage, and humor, that I started to see the modern nation of Texas. Admittedly, that's looking at a place through bizarrely colored glasses, but it's an aspect of the region that I see pop up now and again like I did at the Reverend Horton Heat show on Saturday night.

Nashville Pussy's personnel is an amalgamation of geography that stretches to Canada, but the spirit of the band is the bourbon-stained South. Blain Cartwright is the voice of the band and self-proclaimed redneck from a Kentucky trailer park. Cartwright, himself a disciple of the philosophy of irreducibles, sums up his ethos with two elements: "hate and whiskey." Add to that truncated list a guitar-shredding heroine who makes men lick her boots before giving them a guitar solo, and you would have a fair description of Nashville Pussy. Only a band fueled by hate and whiskey could be responsible for the musical explosion at the Granada Theater last Saturday. The aforementioned guitarist, pictured above, capped off the evening by allowing an audience member to pour liquor in her mouth before she spewed it back at the audience, climbed the light rigging, and began tearing the strings from her guitar and throwing them to the crowd.

The Reverend Horton Heat would have been upstaged by that exhibition if they hadn't followed it up with a set that exceeded two hours. The exceptional thing about the Reverend is the bareness of his guitar. Ever since Billy Corgan's big muff guitar effect antics from the Smashing Pumpkins, the general public has been spoiled with rock and roll doused in angsty fuzz. It's not a bad thing. Practically my whole CD collection is angsty fuzz. It's an expressionistic liberty, to distort instruments, and I like it. But I also appreciate how the Reverend is still, for the most part, rattling our teeth with accelerated swing guitar. That double-time approach, combined with the Rev's polished vocal caterwaul, accelerates into what we know as psychobilly. The end result is a sound as brash and racy as all the flaming dice tattoos and pompadours in the crowd. And it hinges entirely on the band's technique. The Reverend proved as much by racing through tunes from Bill Haley, Elvis, Cash, and Black Sabbath with aplomb. I've seen the Reverend Horton Heat one other time, in Boston, but he had nowhere near the command over the crowd as he did on this evening. Dallas seems to be struggling to apprehend its own musical identity. Most of the area's bands have disintegrated or moved somewhere else. As a front-runner of Dallas' old guard, I think Pastor Heath is the city's best shot at a musical patriarch.

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