Psychobilly FreakoutAutumn and I had tickets to see the Reverend Horton Heat this past Friday Night, up at Jannus Landing in St. Petersburg. The Landing is a unique place to see a show: it’s literally built into the courtyard between a set of condo units, right in the heart of downtown. It’s also extremely close to our place, about a half hour drive without taking traffic into account, and gives us an excuse to cruise over the always-pleasant Sunshine Skyway bridge. Nice drive, a nice open-air location (assuming it doesn’t rain) and a small enough location that everybody in the audience can see the band.
When I arrived home after work on Friday, I took a look at the tickets: “Rev. Horton Heat, with Hank III and Assjack. Doors: 7:00.” Having learned from my previous experiences at the place, I made the call to leave the house a little late. The Jannus stage crew is notoriously slow to set up, and I didn’t really have a lot of interest in standing around through two opening bands and the accompanying waits between acts. We left our place around 8:30, thinking we might be cutting it a bit close.
After getting lost downtown, (I swore that I remembered how to get there, when in fact I did not) cursing the one way city streets and killing Autumn’s manual transmission Escort climbing up the parking garage incline, we finally arrived at the site of the concert. Not only were there THREE opening bands, (the all-female "Nashville Pussy" hadn’t been billed) but only the first had actually played their set. We arrived almost two hours after the billed start time, but the Reverend wouldn’t climb onstage until around 10:30.
Now resigned to our fates, we decided to enjoy the opening acts anyway and try to press forward for a better view before the headliners could hit the stage. Hank III was all right, a weird mix of bluegrass, rock and punk, and the crowd was really into him. The guy behind us must have been the group’s number one fan, singing along to every single song of their set. The bass player was particularly unsettling, staring into the audience with accusing eyes that would alternate between piercing fury and uncertain worry. His fluffy turd of a hairstyle (shaved on the sides, lazily floofed into a little pile on top) was accented beautifully by his one-piece workman’s jumpsuit. An oddball group, for sure, but they were entertaining to say the least. The group couldn’t have been onstage for more than half an hour before the lead singer stepped aside and the entire band (electric fiddle and all) immediately transformed themselves into a hardcore speed metal sextet, complete with a muttenchopped new singer. Hank III and Assjack were virtually the same band.
But where the former band’s style was fairly close to that of Horton Heat’s, the latter’s was completely out of left field. Witty, angry country lyrics were instantly replaced by indecipherable screams. The audience reacted accordingly, forming one of the biggest mosh pits I’ve ever seen. This was an ANGRY pit, too – furious skinheads were throwing punches with ill intentions, aging hippies were taking the opportunity to release some of their pent-up aggression. There were representatives from a dozen different age groups and walks of life in that circle, but they were momentarily unified in their ferocity. We kept our distance.
As planned, we pressed forward between bands and managed to land in a great spot about six rows from the stage by the time RHH and his band stormed out. I wasn’t expecting a mosh pit during the main set, since their music is much more low-key than the opening acts, but just in case I’d taken note of where the previous pit had formed and shuffled us to a “safe” location. Two songs into the set, I noticed one of the shirtless ringleaders of the AssJack pit. As if on cue he turned around, looked at one of his buddies, smiled broadly and drew a circle in the air in front of his chest with his index fingers. This guy was standing about six feet to my right, and he was moments away from reviving the angry mosh pit from hell. I immediately scooted Autumn towards the left side of the stage. Before the song had ended, the frenzied masses were once again throwing punches. On stage, Horton Heat smirked at these developments.
No sooner had we reached relative safety, (my right shoulder had become the outer boundary of the mosh pit) than two 300 pounders directly in front of us took to fisticuffs. And when I say “directly in front of us”, I mean that when the wife of the first participant took offense to the actions of the second and threw her drink in his face, half of that drink wound up on my shirt. I made a few meager attempts at keeping them apart, but the efforts were futile. When a bird in the Serengeti sees a pair of wildebeests about to spar, he takes flight. We took that as an inspiration to seek higher ground.
From the relative safety of the elevated deck at the back of the venue, Autumn could actually see the band, (at a short 5’4”, she constantly has trouble with visibility in large crowds) we didn’t have to rub elbows as closely with our neighbors, and the audio mix was a lot tighter. Those were the positives. The negatives? We had to use some fancy footwork to sneak into a vantage point that wasn’t directly behind a tree, and we were the youngest people on the deck by a good twenty years. Yep, we spent the rest of our Friday night at a concert – hangin' with the old people in the back of the room. We can no longer count ourselves among the rebellious youth.