by Rev. Walter Beck
Hank Williams III, the living heir to the Hank Williams legend, came to the Vogue on March 20th to bring his brand of outlaw music to the fine people of Indianapolis.
Tickets ran around $20 and the crowd was one of the most varied I’ve ever seen at a show; you had punk rockers, metalheads, freaks, hilljacks, rednecks, the works. All gathered to see the underground outlaw of country music. If nothing else, that is the testimony to the power of Hank III’s music.
Kicking off his set with his Damn Band, Hank entered the stage to a deafening roar from the crowd as he started into “Straight to Hell”. Quickly the venue got hot with me and Jimmie both standing there, just pouring sweat. Hank’s band was certainly speaking for his rag-tag style; his fiddle player and upright bassist both sported long beards, looking like extras from Deliverance, his banjo player and steel guitarist looked pretty clean cut and professional, like the backing musicians of any respectable country musician and his shirtless, tattooed drummer looked like he belonged in the rhythm section of a hardcore thrash band.
Despite touring in support of his double country LP Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown, the majority of his country set-list came from his underground smash album Straight to Hell. He played eight songs from that record and dipped into his other country records including Rebel Within, Lovesick Broke & Drifting and Damn Right Rebel Proud.
The country set definitely had the sold-out crowd in a frenzy, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a mosh pit at a country show, and it was the crowd that really told the story; you had long-haired weirdoes rocking out to the outlaw songs as well as sweaty bearded guys in overalls watching their sleazy-dressed girlfriends grind away.
After his hour and a half country set, he switched things up a bit, putting down his acoustic guitar for an electric axe and launched into a thirty-minute romp of his punk-drenched country music known as “hellbilly”, ripping through outlaw anthems like “Hillbilly Joke (aka Go Fuck You)”, “Hellbilly”, “Tennessee Driver” and “Life of Sin”. The hellbilly set had the whole place on fire, the beers were flowing and the people were caught in the madness.
He left the stage for a break after the hellbilly set and a good portion of the crowd left. It was mostly the “country” crowd, the rednecks and hilljacks that left. Suddenly a quarter of the crowd was gone as the lights went dim.
As Hank returned to the stage, a strange film began playing on the screen behind him, a film showing scenes of brutal dictators, American corruption and a bleak future laden with disease and war. It was time for the second half the show.
Usually, the second half of the show features Assjack, Hank’s hardcore metal band, but this was different. It was started with his doom metal band, Attention Deficit Domination, which apparently consists of Hank on electric guitar and vocals and his drummer behind him.
Attention Deficit Domination was a completely different animal from the Damn Band; instead of a loud, party atmosphere, this was an hour of slow, evil sounding doom metal. It was a much more surrealistic experience as Hank stretched chords out his guitar, barked out these rough vocals, all while this strange film kept playing.
It was hard to tell where one song ended and another began during the next hour as they all seamlessly flowed together to create this intense vibe. Since I have a strong affinity for doom and sludge metal, I loved every minute of it.
After the Attention Deficit Domination set ended, Hank III launched into his last set of the night, 3 Bar Ranch, his “cattlecore” project. The gist of this is a three piece band (two guitars and a drummer) that plays amped-up speed metal to these samples of cattle auctioneers rambling off auction prices.
I have the album by this project, Cattle Callin’ and I wasn’t impressed at all with the record, the novelty wore off after the first couple tracks. I wasn’t expecting much with the live performance either.
I was wrong, 3 Bar Ranch, with their raw speed fits perfectly into a live setting; the crowd went mental and the mosh pit was in full swing for the next forty-five minutes as Hank III and his two cohorts, disguised in masks, ripped through riff after riff. I don’t think he should do another 3 Bar Ranch studio album, but he should definitely keep them as part of his live set as it closed out the night with the same high energy as it began.
After playing his last chord, he jumped right in front of the barricade and started signing autographs for fans. I didn’t have anything for him to sign, but I did get to meet him, shake his hand and thank him for one hell of a set.
Jimmie and I left the venue just absolutely floored; Hank III is probably the strongest live performer in the American underground today, he not only played a three and a half hour long show, but did four completely different sets with four different “bands” and not only kept the audience burning all night, but afterwards stuck around to meet everyone and sign their t-shirts.
Next time Hank III plays near your town, go see him, you’re in for an experience like none other on the concert circuit.