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REVEREND HEAT SCORCHES STAGE AT S.L.'S CLUB DV8

When this heat is on, he's really on!

The Reverend Horton Heat is Texas' outstanding contribution to the world of psychobilly, which normally sounds like an awkward combination of rockabilly, punk-rock and a gumbo of other influences. He's been regarded for a while as one of the best live acts in the United States, and Tuesday night's packed DV8 show proved that reputation is no fluke.Of course, that impression may have been unjustly influenced by the sight of the good reverend (a.k.a. Jim Heath, at least by his mother), clad in powder blue polyester tuxedo pants with a pink ruffled tuxedo shirt, standing astride a candy apple red bass fiddle complete with white and yellow painted-on flames as he shredded through "The Devil's Chasing Me" - and as black-clad bassist Jimbo pounded out fluid rhythm lines on the song, despite his instrument's inclined position.

But no, rude rockabilly like "Five-O Ford," "Cruising for a Bruisin' " and "Big Little Baby" would still be ample evidence that Heat and his two bandmates can light up any stage any time. Members of the DV8 crowd, who witnessed one of the more spectacular live shows this year, certainly wouldn't disagree, as many of them pogoed, moshed and stage-dived up a storm during the group's 70-minute set.

Though the trio's most recent album, "Liquor in the Front," was released last year, Heat and his cohorts are touring to work out the bugs on at least a dozen new songs, with typical Heat titles like "It's Martini Time!," "I'm Texan" and "Sue Jack Daniels" - as well as work in a new drummer, Scott Churil-la, who has replaced longtime skin-pounder Taz.

Churilla acquitted himself quite nicely - although Heat's manic guitar work and Jimbo's slap-happy bass work competed head-to-head for the most musically riveting part of the night - and the new material shone, albeit not as much as the tongue-in-cheek country stomp "Bales of Cocaine" and the aptly titled "Psychobilly Freakout."

It's a wonder Heat's music hasn't caught on more with the record-buying public ("The Devil's Chasing Me" scared up a little interest from music listeners and got the band signed to a major label), but the ever-growing audiences at his shows may indicate he's catching on by word of mouth.

Texas has more than the Reverend Horton Heat and the second-best team in professional football to be proud of, too. Opening act Hagfish, from Dallas, could have easily stolen the show from any other headliner.

Dressed in sharp black suits and ties, Hagfish would be the best-dressed punk group around if not for New York's CIV. But these guys are no pretty-boy pretenders - their suave style of pop-punk is as good as any other band out there.

Blistering numbers like "Hose," "Crater" and "Buster" all clocked in well under three minutes, the perfect length for memorable pop tunes, whose catchy choruses stay in your head well after they're finished.

Hagfish singer George Reagan proved he has the range to pull off the sweet melodies necessary for "Happiness" and "Stamp," while guitarist Zach Blair added the crunch to ensure such songs didn't descend into sappiness. Blair, whose brother Doni plays bass guitar in the band, added some humorous touches to his show-man-ship - such as performing some of his fretboard work with his left arm under his left knee.

Interestingly, the quartet's major-label effort, " . . . Rocks Your Lame (Bleep!)," was produced by members of All, the Colorado quartet that set the standard for many of today's pop-punk acts. But with All descending into major-label schlock-rock, Hagfish couldn't have picked a more ideal time to burst onto the scene.