For the modern day underground country fan, going to a Hank III show is a no brainer. Even if you’ve gotten sideways with his recent sound, you go. It’s Hank III. It is the one show you make sure to catch that year. And you see people you haven’t seen since that last Hank III show, or people you’ve never met, but know one way or another through Hank III.
Hank III does not put on bad shows, it is as simple as that. The Prevost bus could be like a Petri dish of strep or flu (and many times is), and still you’re not going to see any symptoms on stage. Sidemen might change, but they don’t miss a beat. Hank III is obsessive about the quality of the live set, and it’s hard to find criticisms about the product on stage. Most the whining you hear is about the venue or maybe the moshers in the crowd.
Hank III really plays three shows at a concert: country, hellbilly, and his metal band Assjack. In previous years, by the time Assjack came around it felt like an afterthought; not because of the performance, more because the crowd would thin out heavily, and familiarity with the material was limited. Whether it’s because Assjack finally won an official album release from Curb Records recently, or more metal fans are finding their way to Hank III shows, the crowd for the most part stuck around this time, and for the first time, the harder material was my favorite part of the concert.
Notable from Assjack was that DaveyMac, sometime fiddle player for Hank III was also playing lead guitar, and though he mostly stood in one place, which seemed a little out of place with all the other chaos happening on stage with III and frontman Gary Lindsey, the man absolutely shredded when he took his solos.
Right as the Assjack set started, two blowup dolls materialized from near the stage, and were being tossed around above the crowd. Gary got a hold of one and deserves kudos for his, um “prowess” utilizing the impromptu stage props, including relieving one of her internal pressure by biting her in the crotch. The dolls made an appearance the next night in Ft. Worth too. I think all of us should come together for America and make flying blow up dolls a staple of all future Assjack sets.
The country set was solid as always, but I have to say, I missed Hank III’s previous fiddle player, Adam McOwen. Not taking anything away from DaveyMac or III’s superpicker steel player Andy Gibson, but when you wanted to cram the most possible notes into a solo, McOwen was the best. I like DaveyMac’s fiddle chunking between solos, but Adam was the best solo taker in the Damn Band, period. Certainly DaveyMac’s dual use makes the change understandable. Adam McOwen in my mind will always be the most underrated member of the Damn Band.
Also, I can’t criticize anything about the music or the energy level in the country set, but the simple fact is that I was hearing basically the same country material that I’ve been hearing since ’06. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but except for the title track of his new album Rebel Within, they were the same songs I’ve been wearing out for over fours years through albums, videos, and live shows.
A lot of this is not Hank III’s fault, as his music has been held up in legal fights with Curb Records. And though he does have new songs and has played them at local Nashville gigs, he faces a tough decision: play the new stuff to appease the live audience and risk having the material feel less fresh when the album is released, OR continue to play the same old numbers until the release date.
I also thought that some of the fast songs of the country set we’re a little slow. In my review of the Hank III show last year, I mentioned how III had worked to “find the groove” for songs, not just playing them as fast as possible, and how he had worked to delineate the country and metal material. But now some songs like “Long Hauls & Close Calls” slowed down even more, past the “groove.” Check out the song from ’06 HERE, and then late ’09 HERE. Hank III’s contribution to country is bringing that punk/metal energy to the format. That is what makes him unique.
A question people always have about Hank III is how his voice is holding up. It was early in the tour when I saw him, but his voice was excellent. Another observation from last year was that he’d not been screaming as much during the Hellbilliy/Assjack material. Now he pretty much didn’t scream at all to preserve the voice. I think that’s a good thing. A good thing has also been the integration of banjo into the band, which only gets better and tighter as time goes on. Of all the talk of Hank III “going metal,” the country set has been maturing to a more traditional style over his career, going from lead guitar to steel guitar, and adding the banjo.
The last song of the night was not country, or the Assjack we’re all used to. III introduced it as a “stoner” song, and it was slow, thick, and heavy. This song might be the best hint yet of what a post-Curb era Hank III will sound like. DaveyMac was more integrated into this song than the other Assjack stuff (Assjack doesn’t always have a lead guitar player), and I was really impressed with the mood and arrangement.
I have to give props to Emo’s in Austin. The venue has poor sight lines, but this was the best sounding Hank III show I’ve ever been to: not so loud that the music was distorted, but loud enough where you felt it. This was also the best crowd at a Hank III show to be a part of. All the other Hank III shows I’ve been to, the whole venue became a mosh pit after the second country song. At this show, there was that element at the front of the stage, but everyone seemed respectful, especially during the country set.
Overall it was a damn good time and an excellent show. Hank III is still one of the best live shows to see, and one of the best values for the amount of music you will get.
To read a review of the opening band Kyle Turley, click here.
Thanks to Helldorado from hank3.com for the blow up doll photo from the Riglea in Ft. Worth.