Photo by Tom Murphy.
Reverend Dead Eye
Friday, June 27, 2008
The Continental Club, Denver
Better Than: You have any reason to expect from a dive bar off Santa Fe.
There might have been any number of other things to see or do on a Friday night in late June, but when Reverend Dead Eye said he was having his actual final show as a resident of Denver and doing two sets, I had to go -- not just because I’m a fan, but also because he’s been an underlooked, undersung, underappreciated talent in his own home town.
Not knowing his complete recorded catalogue as well as I should, it seemed to me that his first set was comprised mostly of newer, or at least relatively unfamiliar material. While some people struggle with one instrument, Dead has managed to integrate singing, guitar, drums, tambourine and harmonica throughout his sets, often in the same song. With one kick drum being of the traditional variety, he rigged a large tin bucket as his second kick, along with a cymbal triggered by foot. With what sounds like a slightly overdriven resonator guitar, The Rev’s aural signature is a bit like listening to a radio station tuned to another era where tent revival gospel, folk, country and the blues came together and mixed with each other effortlessly. There’s a resonant, gritty scratchiness to Dead Eye’s entire presentation that suggests Farm Security Administration photos from the Great Depression.
Most of the Reverend’s songs explore the multifaceted nature of spiritual crisis, heartache, poverty and what it means to really feel alive. A lot of the music is hectic and driven with a emotional fervor, but some of the Rev’s fans probably forget that he also has gentle, elegiac songs that capture the simple beauty of the moments in life when you’re struck by the soul-stirring sense that you’re part of something larger than yourself, and that the petty travails of everyday life aren’t worth worry and anguish they sometimes bring. The first set finished up with “Snakebite” and “Backslider” before Dead Eye told us he was taking a break to have a cigarette.
The second set started well after midnight, but it actually looked like more people had shown up. These lucky folks got to see what could be considered the “hits” section of the show. It started with Damaris Drummond joining Dead Eye for a duet of what sounded like a bluesified kid’s song. a kick drum that resembled "Rock and Roll Part II" introduced Rev’s most popular song, “Fuck the Devil," which pretty much everyone sang along to, repeating the title refrain. After that, he announced he was going to play a Morgan McKinleyfield song (“Cold Hearted Woman”). Not sure anyone caught it, but Morgan McKinleyfield is another name for Muddy Waters (born McKinley Morganfield). The rest of the set was filled with lively favorites such as “Bible Thump,” “Jesus on the Main Line,” “Bring That Hellfire Down,” and “Rattlesnake Shake.” Dead Eye closed with one of his oldest songs, “Snakebite,” bringing a close to a 28-song marathon the likes of which Denver will likely never quite get to see again. From here on out, Reverend Dead Eye is reportedly hitting the road on an extended tour of indefinite duration, and where he ultimately ends up hanging his hat -- well, that's in God’s hands at this point.
-- Tom Murphy
Personal Bias: I’ve been a Reverend Dead Eye fan from the very beginning roughly six years ago.
Random Detail: Reverend Dead Eye had a wood-carved skeleton on his kick drum.
By the Way: Dead Eye’s latest album Turn or Burn might be his best release yet.