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Once upon a time, club owners and promoters booked bands with a trace of trepidation. Musicians were unknown quantities who might abuse the equipment, the audience, or each other, and who viewed getting banned from CBGB as a mighty accolade. But, in these days of the non-threatening, career-oriented performer, who can owners and promoters fear? Electronica freaks, veering between somnolence and spasm, pallid from poorly-cut drugs and vegetarian diets? Retro swingers decked out in their grandparentsí clothes, playing their grandparentsí music? Indie rockers sporting T-shirts from dropped-out-of colleges and pretensions only slightly less bloated than those that spawned "Bohemian Rhapsody?"

Who's left to throw a scare into the man in charge? The Reverend Horton Heat, that's who.

"Yeah, New York City's a great gig: 'Thanks a lot for playing, here's your money, now get out before we call the cops!" Or so says Jim Heath, the Reverend of the Reverend Horton Heat, the baddest psychobilly outfit currently on six legs. What's psychobilly? Think of the music as a car (American-made, naturally) with rockabilly for an engine and punk for fuel. Link Wray has the roadmap, but Darby Crash is driving.

Horton Heat is part hoedown, part lounge act, and part all-ages hardcore matinee. Gretsch-generated reverb barrels through the songs like a drunk-driven sedan weaving down a rain-slicked street; standup bass and drum whomp with the blunt force of a two-by-four in the face. Their new album "Space Heater" contains one song about cars, four songs about girls, five songs about getting drunk, and seven songs about pissing people off. The primal essence of rock n' roll.

But why should such basics unnerve the people in charge? Sure, the music shocks like cheap whiskey, you can never brace yourself solid enough for the first crack-the-cap taste--but after the initial choke, the rest goes down quick and smooth and entirely enjoyable. Maybe it's that the band plays for too long, or drinks too much onstage, or that they stagedive with their instruments. Maybe it's the strangely mixed crowd that turns out for a Reverend Horton Heat show--a blend of greasers, skaters, metalheads, and the odd country fan, as well as the non-menacing retrohoppers and indie rockers mentioned above. You see that many kinds in one room and you figure there's bound to be a rumble. Then, of course, maybe itís not the audience you should worry yourself about....

The place: the Limelight. The time: several years ago, after a sellout gig and a not unimpressive quantity of cocktails.

"Well, what happened was I went out an exit I wasn't supposed to," the Reverend recounts. "I don't know what I was doing, but these bouncers came, and it was like they were gonna arrest me. They grabbed me, dragged me to the promoter's office. When I got in there, I knocked over the promoter's desk, I punched his friend, I jumped over the desk, and went running out of there with the bouncers chasing me. I ran out the same exit I wasn't supposed to, into a courtyard, and there was this fence around the courtyard--I can't believe it, I was so wasted--but I jumped the fence.

"And I couldn't believe it, but there was a taxi right there, and I'm like "TAXI!"--just like in the movies. I jumped in and said 'Let's get outta here!' And the guys were up by the window and I'm goin 'Get us out of here!' and the guy's going 'Alright!' and he floors it--vrrrroooww--and I look back and there's these bouncers, like about nine of 'em out there chasing the cab. The guy was great, he ran a light. It was cool. I gave him a good tip, too." It's a tale that is somehow both more demented and more wholesome than most others of that unholy house of worship (and explains what security was up to while all those kids were dealing X).

In the recording studio, Reverend Horton Heat holds to that recklessness. The first album, "Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em" was recorded live in-studio on glorious two-track. "The Full Custom Gospel Sounds" sampled turntable hiss to give the CD that vinyl sound. And for "Space Heater," they went in cold: "we set up our stuff, the guys kinda took off, and I got this idea," says the Rev. The idea to just conjure up the songs in-studio, right off the top of his Brylcreemed head.

"I wrote and recorded at this demo studio a song a day for 30 days, basically. Or something like that. I'd come in around 11 in the morning and bash around until four." It's not the rendition you hear on the album, which was done in a real "full top-notch-style studio," but that demo dive on the dark side of Chicago was where all them tunes, from "Baby, I'm Drunk" to "Texas Rockabilly Rebel," were born.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about "Space Heater" is that, in a way, it's the band's first truly collaborative effort. Previously, "all the songs were just basically me," the Rev. explains. By the time bassist Jimbo and drummer Scott came on the scene, "I'd pretty much hand it to 'em and we'd go ahead and cut the song. This way they were there all day and it kinda gave them some input."

Which makes sense. The live show has always been about cooperation: what epitomizes all the Reverend Horton Heat stands for more than the sight of Jimbo lying on the stage, thumping away on his flame-adorned standup bass with the Rev. atop it, ripping a big solo out of his hollow-body Fender? Even if, as the man says, "New York crowds are tough; theyíre kinda jaded; theyíve seen it all before," thatís one thing we sure donít get a look at too often. And even if they "always have problems" with the club owners, itís not like down in Boone County, Missouri, where they called The Law to confiscate all the bandís equipment early in the am due to some long-forgotten managerial civil dispute.

So go see the Reverend Horton Heat whenever you can. Put lots of goop in your hair and sneer at everyone as you walk in. Dance to all the songs, and if you get too tired, just stand there and scream. Buy the band drinks afterward. The Reverend likes Skyy vodka martinis with a twist of lemon, shaken with ice "so they're a little slushy on top." Jimbo likes beer and Jagermeister. I don't know what Scott likes, but he'll tell you when you get there.