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Paul Mann: Reverend Horton Heat, Jello Biafra Close Out 2012 at Ventura Theater

A diverse group of music fans turned out for the final concert of the year at the Majestic Ventura Theater. The crowd was drawn together by an unusual lineup featuring one of the most intense rock bands in the rockabilly — or pschyobilly, if you prefer the term — genre. What made the show unusual was a guest appearance by Jello Biafra, the former lead singer of the legendary hard-core punk band the Dead Kennedys.

The amalgamation of musical genres began early with opening act Tijuana Panthers. The Long Beach trio played their own sophisticated version of punk-infused surf music, with a jazz-like 4/4 beat that resulted in a fresh, smart sound.

By the time Reverend Horton Heat sauntered on-stage well after 10 p.m., the alcohol-infused crowd had pressed to the front of the stage and was ready to rock. The band, led by mercurial guitar player and lead singer Jim Heath, charged right out of the gate, opening with one of their signature anthems, “Pschyobilly Freakout.”

The crowd surged forward in a dancing frenzy, which was not to subside until the show ended well after midnight. The trio, which also featured Jimbo Wallace on upright bass and the return of drummer Scott Churilla from the Supersuckers, tore through songs from their seven albums for more than an hour. Then the band switched things up with the guitarist and bass player switching instruments and playing the first of several covers, including Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolf.”

It was near midnight before Biafra made a triumphant appearance onstage, wearing a gaudy cape and looking much like a Lucha Libre wrestler with a Fez hat. Although the aged singer is now much grayer and more portly than in his punk heyday, it didn’t seem to stop him from performing in the over-the-top animated style for which he was once so famous.

The spirited singer performed loud, clear vocals on a mini set of five songs, and even included a stage dive in his histrionic show. Dead Kennedys classics such as “Too Drunk to F—K” and “Holiday in Cambodia” whipped the crowd into a frenzy. With the Horton Heat playing flawlessly behind him, he even did an awesome cover of “House of the Rising Sun.”

Jello Biafra makes a triumphant guest appearance at the Majestic Ventura Theater. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)
Jello Biafra makes a triumphant guest appearance at the Majestic Ventura Theater. (L. Paul Mann / Noozhawk photo)

In the early 1980s, the tiny Goleta armory building was ground zero for Santa Barbara’s novice punk movement. The original hard-core punk bands from Los Angeles such as Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys rotated into the venue for a short while, creating a truly exciting if not dangerous music scene. Loyal punk rockers would follow the bands up from Los Angeles. Many of them, in a show of anarchical solidarity, would refuse to pay the $6 entrance fee on principle and seek out all manner of free entry. Some would rush the ticket takers, while others would smash out the windows leading to the bathrooms.

Inside, the crowd would be no less aggressive, slam dancing violently and stage diving. The difference back then from stage diving at concerts today, however, is that the crowd was more likely to sidestep than catch a stage diver. With several music fans ending up in the hospital with neck injuries and repeated acts of vandalism on the venue, the shows were finally shut down about 18 months after they began, and the Goleta building became a footnote to punk history in the Santa Barbara area.

After Biafra exited the stage, the Reverend Horton Heat kicked into an even higher gear and closed out their 19-song set with an explosive finale. It was a yet another weird and wonderful night of live music at the Majestic Ventura Theater.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributing writer. The opinions expressed are his own.

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