What The Music Is There For ( a Hank III Concert Review)

OK, I got a review of the Hank III show in Portland at the Roseland Theater on Tue (3-3-09) coming up for the masses, but this one is for all you rabid Hank III fans like me who want to know the whole skinny.

First off, the show was absolutely brutal. This was the best Hank III show I’ve seen to date, better then when I saw him last in ’07, not to take anything away from that show either. But in his time off from the road, Hank III clearly took a step back to review what he was doing, and to make some changes for the better of the show.

For those of you worried about the new band lineup, DON’T. For those of you worried about rust, DON’T. Those of you worried about III’s voice, FORGET ABOUT IT!

Those Poor Bastards opened, and they were superb. So much so they deserve their own review, which I’ll be posting in a few days, but Hank III actually came out disguised in a death mask and sang with them for a couple of songs. Absolutely off the wall.

Then Hank III came out and dropped a bomb on the city.

Hank III’s Voice

There are some specific changes Hank III has made to the show, a lot of which have to do with protecting his voice. For those of you that don’t know, III’s had issues with his voice for a while now. In fact he’s said in interviews that at one point a doctor told him he could never tour like he does.

Some people have criticized III for not taking care of his voice, for doing his metal stuff with no regard to what it would do to his country singing voice. I’ve been concerned, but have fallen short of being critical, because I’ve known that nobody is more critical of his voice than Hank III himself. And be cause of that, he has made some changes.

First, if you’ve seen him on this latest tour, or seen the videos or heard audio, you might have noticed that the music sounds a little “different,” but maybe you can’t define exactly what it is. That is because Hank III has moved his tuning down. I’m not sure where or how much (probably a half step), but if you try to play along with his songs on a standard-tuned guitar or play the CD, you’ll notice everything sounds lower.

Many bands do this. One of the most famous for this is Guns & Roses who used to tune a half step down. The reason is so that the music fits the singer’s most-optimal vocal range, or possibly in Hank III’s case, it helps save his voice. The lower you sing, the less you use the “falsetto” part of your voice, or the most tender parts of your throat.

Also Gary Lindsey came out for a few songs during the country set, and seemed to take a slightly more lead role in the vocals of the Hellbilly and Assjack sets, though maybe I was just thinking he did. III also seemed to be yelling more instead of screaming, again something that will help save those delicate Falsetto tissues. But this didn’t take away from the show whatsoever.

As an effect of all of this, 2/3’rds through the way through a tour and Hank III’s voice sounded EXCELLENT. Furthermore he talked on stage about 3 times more then the previous times I have seen him. Before he always seemed to be concerned about his voice, so he would limit talking in between songs. He seemed to be more confident now, he engaged the crowd, asked us questions, got up on the soap box a few times. It was great. I even noticed a difference in his overall stage demeanor. He was more animated, seemed to be having more fun.

Other Changes

Another thing I noticed is that there was more attention paid to the tempo of the songs. It is so easy to speed everything up in a live environment, and it is a sign of good musicianship when you really emphasize trying to find the “groove” of a song, where the timing just fits and you can really feel the music. That meant some songs were slower, like “Country Heroes” seemed slower than even it’s recorded counterpart. “Long Hauls Close Calls” was also slower, more similar to it’s tempo on the album than in previous live versions.

But there were also fast songs, and faster songs, like their version of the old bluegrass tune “Fire on the Mountain” that was moving so fast I was afraid was going to fly off the dern handle!

Another thing I noticed is that the three sets seemed more pure. The country set was more country, the Hellbilly more Hellbilly. He played a LOT of covers during the country set, and a lot of older stuff. He played “87 Southbound” “Cocaine Blues” and “I Don’t Know” from the 1st album. He also played “Family Tradition,” a medley based on “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams”, and Coe’s “Longhaired Redneck,” which seemed appropriate, because there were just as many cowboys as metalheads, and there were more hippies than I expected. This was by far the most diverse crowd I’d seen at a Hank III show.

And when the country set was done, I was ready for the Hellbilly, unlike at previous shows where I wanted more country. I noticed a lot of the cowboys on hand were happy with the song selection as well, and more people stuck around for the rest of the show than I had seen before.

The Lineup

As for the lineup, I thought it was great. Unfortunately the venue I was at had the low end turned up way too high (in fact my ears are still ringing), and it drowned out a lot of the solos, and I also couldn’t hear exactly was the new bass player Zach Shedd was doing, but I still thought the new lineup did good. One of my favorite parts of the night was when Gary Lindsey came out during the country version of PFF, and there were 6 GUYS all standing on the tip of the stage, hunching out the music. Just the sheer volume of sound blew you away.

The Hellbilly and Assjack stuff was great as always, Gary Lindsey was a madman, and if you ask me, is underrated for all he does.

Other Stuff

Before the show I did an interview with Hank III’s steel payer Andy Gibson for over an hour, and I have it on audio recording. I will post a Q & A version of the most interesting parts of the interview soon, as well as all the audio at some point, stay tuned.

I also talked to Lonesome Wyatt of “Those Poor Bastards” for a while after the show, and will include that info in a review I have of them coming up soon.

I wanted to interview a few others in Hank III’s band as well, but didn’t get the chance. And for some of those new here that might be wondering why I did not interview Hank III, well long story short, because I run an organization called “Free Hank III,” for legal reasons it is best I just don’t associate with him or he could be found in violation of his contract with Curb Records.

I did see him a couple of times back stage, but he was busy and I didn’t want to bother him. He lost a key guy on the road crew on this tour and has been having to take up the slack. I also didn’t hang out after the show on the bus or anything either, no reason to tempt fate. There will be plenty of time for that when Free Hank III’s mission is accomplished.

Lastly I want to say that my favorite part of the show actually had nothing to do with the music, but when Hank III was talking, which like I said before he did a lot more of. He talked about how times are getting though, and are probably only going to get tougher, and that is what the music is for, to help you through the hard times. He said all of this while pointing a finger to his head like a gun, and told people to not take the easy way out.

I know he’s not the first to say this, but coming from Hank III it seemed more poignant, especially just the way he said it. There are a lot of people out there hurting right now, and it just helped put it all in perspective. THAT is what the music is there for, we can never forget that, and that is why it is so important to support and preserve the music and traditions. How many lives has REAL country music saved? I’m not kidding. All of this isn’t just a time waste, this is our lives, our culture, and it is heartfelt times like when Hank III spoke and like this moment in time we are living in that remind us of absolute truths and what to be thankful for.

Long live Hank III.