Hoots and Hellmouth at the Sellersville Theater
Words and Photos by Alex Kreutzer
Going to a Hoots and Hellmouth show is what one might call a “full-spectrum experience.” You not only get to see a band that covers a full range of the musical spectrum (often within the same song), but you also see a full spectrum of music fans. A quick scan of the crowd reveals everyone from senior-citizen-folk-diehards to dreadlock-hippies-in-their-thirties to clean-cut-high-school-kids. What may seem at first glance to be an unusually disparate group of fans is actually a pretty tight-knit congregation, especially once Sean Hoots and company start leading the revival and preaching their roots rock gospel. Those in attendance on “Blackout Wednesday” (Thanksgiving Eve) at the Sellersville Theater were quick to surrender to the church of Hoots and Hellmouth.
The Sellersville Theater is a historic venue located between Philly and Allentown. The venue is a great fit for Hoots and Hellmouth, showing respect to roots and tradition while still looking forward. It’s a small theater with great sound that’s just on the right side of intimate, and it happens to be pretty close to H&H’s home turf..
Mason Porter opened the night with a short set that could best be described as solid. The band featured strong harmonies and tight musical skills. The band was a bit reserved, and it seemed like they were holding back a little given the opening act time constraints. I’d like to hear the band when they really have a chance to stretch out and open up; Mason Porter probably shines pretty brightly when they’re playing full sets and cutting loose.
Once Hoots and Hellmouth came out, the crowd was theirs. The fans were graced this night with the presence of founding member Andrew Gray (Is that you, Hellmouth?), who came out of semi-retirement to join the rest of the guys on their almost-home turf.
H&H have this habit of starting out quietly. I still remember the first time I saw them (having gone on the recommendation of a friend and having no idea what I was in for); they slipped straight from tuning their instruments into a slow dirge of a song. I was about to be disappointed with the mellow evening I had in store, when suddenly the song just opened up and slammed me in the face. (That first song I ever heard them play was “Asleep on the Couch.) Before long, I was mesmerized by the vocals, the playing, and the sheer power of what this band does.
It’s rare that you see a singer quiet a roomful of hyped-up fans, but Sean Hoots can do just that. You can see members of the audience holding their breath as he sings softer passages. I actually switched the shutter release of my camera to its “quiet mode” at one point because it was so hushed and reverent in the packed theater as he sang a portion of “Why Would You Not Want to Go There?” Within seconds, of course, the song soared into overwhelming musical and emotional crescendos. (Remember that “full spectrum” description I started with?)
Other highlights of the night were the folk-funk powerhouse “Watch Your Mouth” and the steamrolling “What Good Are Plowshares If We Use Them Like Swords?” “Family Band” had the crowd slinking along with a grooving bowed upright bass line. H&H also focused on a brand new release, the haunting “Out to Sea” that had Hoots singing into the pickup in the soundhole of his guitar. As the night went on, the band drove themselves and the crowd further into a frenzy; all of those quiet, tender musical moments make it that much more powerful when the band opens up and pushes full force.
The night ended when Mason Porter joined H&H onstage for a foot stomping encore of “Samson and Delilah,” an old traditional song often associated these days with the Grateful Dead. The band literally jumped, writhed, stomped and shouted their way through the song before finally calling it a night after a two-hour show. I know those who attended now have one more thing to be thankful for…