Tattoos, tunes and lots of PBR

by Brian Clarey

I’m still reeling from the Heavy Rebel Weekender that took place at Winston-Salem’s Millennium Center this weekend, suffering from a case of sensory overload that will take a few days to clear up. That’s what happens when you mix rock and roll, rockabilly, alt-country, boogie woogie, heavy metal and just about any other form of American kickass music together for a three-day stretch. When you cram 70 bands onto three stages over three days, it’s impossible to see them all. It’s impossible, I believe, even to see half of them. But I did my best and here are some highlights. The Malamondos, a four-piece outfit based in Greensboro, opened the affair on the main stage and implored the crowd, still into their first PBRs, to get into action. Lead singer Hunny Goodnight, clad in a schoolgirl kilt, high heels and white socks, danced an old-school twist, a burlesque-house slow grind and… was that the Frug?… while her bandmates engaged in the kind of music they’ve branded “psycho-a-go-go.” I’ve been trying to catch them for about a year, but their set of original surf rock, wah-wah guitar, greaser balladry and relentless bass work have yet to catch on in area clubs. “There’s not a lot of places for us to play in Greensboro,” Ms. Goodnight said after the set. “We play our home town once a year… out of pity.” I also managed to catch a set by another Gate City outfit, the Tremors, down in the part of the Millennium Center dubbed the Jailhouse that saw frontman Jimmy Tremor unleash a rockabilly stampede in the dark, sweaty confines and bassist Slim Perkins, wearing the biggest pair of overalls I’ve ever seen, take a turn on lead vocals for a new number, “Don’t Call Me Jesus.” In another part of the lower floor of the center, the Underground, I caught Ironhead, a full-on glam metal trio from Winston-Salem who brought a much-needed dose of squawk and growl to the event. It was the heaviest show I saw all weekend. There’s more. At the Truckstop Prophets’ Underground set I saw beer cans flung by the audience at the thrashing musicians. In the Jailhouse, guitarist Greg Phoenix undertook a set of covers that included numbers by Carl Perkins, Leonard Cohen (Leonard Cohen!) and Elvis… Costello in a honky-tonk twang. Bettie After Midnight, an all-female three-piece from New York City, made me feel misogynistic during their Jailhouse set – their drummer, Lauren O’Reilly, was one of the best of the entire weekend and forget about that “for a girl” pejorative. And I saw the Cherrybombs, though I can’t read any of the notes I took from their set. But the greatest act I saw all weekend was Uncle Scratch’s Gospel Revival, a two-piece out of Cleveland, Ohio that defies categorization. Onstage were electric portraits of Jesus Christ and Brother Ed’s homemade drum set – large cardboard cylinders, a wire basket, a milk crate, a megaphone, a lonely snare drum and one of those old aluminum lawn chairs. Shouting epithets like, “The devil is a nappy-headed ho” and “The devil is nothing but a piece of crap,” playing songs like “I Banged a Sinner” and “Gimme Back my Bible” and singing through CB radio microphones… I’ve never seen anything like it. Frontman Brother Ant, for example, uses a guitar strap with a depiction of “The Last Supper” on it. It was the best-attended show I’d seen all weekend – by the end the Underground barroom was packed with sweaty patrons rocking one out for Jesus (sort of). And at the close of the set they played a recorded version of the “Hallelujah Chorus” while the crowd, sinners one and all, returned to their lusty, rock-and-roll ways.

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