Heavy Trash have given a much-needed shot in the arm to traditional rockabilly music since releasing their first iconoclastic album in 2005.
They were formed by New Yorker Jon Spencer, frontman of the punk-blues trio Blues Explosion and before that noise-punk band Pussy Galore, and Canadian guitarist Matt Verta-Ray, formerly bassist with alt-rock outfit Madder Rose and guitarist with garage-blues band Speedball Baby, who both delight in twisting roots music into new shapes.
It would be pointless to complain that “this isn’t real Rockabilly”, since Heavy Trash have no desire to please purists. As well as rock’n'roll and country, they mix in blues, soul, doo-wop, surf-rock, garage and even punk, sometimes sounding like the bastard heirs to The Cramps‘ pyschobilly. While not as subversive or dissonant as Blues Explosion, their treatment of traditional roots music is still refreshingly irreverent. Their tongue-in-cheek approach can come close to parody but the songs are strong in their own right and are inspired by a genuine love of rockabilly.
Touring to promote their third album Midnight Soul Serenade, released at the end of last year, Heavy Trash know how to put on an entertaining show. With Spencer whooping and hollering on lead vocals, while playing demented acoustic rhythm guitar, and Verta-Ray twanging forcefully on lead guitar, they are backed by versatile veteran Simon Chardiet on upright bass and alt-country Lambchop drummer Sam Baker to create a full-throttle sound.
After kicking off with a buzzing performance of Bumble Bee, the show came to a brief stop as there was a problem with the bass drum, but Chardiet quickly stepped in to improvise a song while it was being fixed, so momentum was not lost.
Tracks played from the recent album included the slowly sinister Sweet Little Bird, the upbeat swing of Gee, I Really Love You, the chain-gang-rhythmical Good Man and the short Dick Dale-style instrumental Pimento. There were also earlier songs such as the Eddie Cochrane-style swagger of The Loveless, the neurotically stammering Nervis and crowd-pleasing rocker Justine Alright, before the gig ended with rousing garage stomp (Sometimes You Got To Be) Gentle.
The bequiffed Spencer is a theatrical performer, ducking and diving in between singing, as he ranges from crooning romantic ballad In My Heart like Elvis on acid, to the psychotically menace tones of Lux Interior on the punked-up Bedevilment. But he allows backing vocalists Verta-Ray and Chardiet some of the limelight as they get to sing a couple of songs each.
With all members of the band evidently enjoying themselves hugely, the 90-minute set just got better and better, and became even more lively in the last half-hour of encores. Heavy Trash show that rockabilly can be cool.