Hank Williams III
November 29, 2011
First Avenue, Minneapolis
It's not every Tuesday night you get to see three (or four, or five) genres of music performed in one place, particularly genres with names like "cowpunk" and "hellbilly." If you were at First Avenue last night you were in luck - a fine purveyor of the long-form rock show was in town, ready to give you nearly four solid hours of country, rockabilly, doom metal, thrash metal, and at least a half-dozen fractured representations thereof.
Frankly, I had no idea what to expect from a Hank3 show. I came expecting a cultural education and on that note it certainly didn't disappoint. From the rebel yells and shouts of "Reinstate Hank Williams" to the punk patch covered, hard moshing crowd, I got quite a bit more than I bargained for in the first set alone.
With a very capable backing band - which included a banjo, pedal steel, stand up bass and fiddle - Hank led the packed-in crowd in verses of smokin', drinkin' and fightin' call and response. Aside from some rare banter, there were barely spaces to breathe as they powered through at least two dozen country-flavored songs punctuated with fiddle and stand up bass solos and bursts of powerful metal drumming.
This wasn't the country of Garth Brooks and Billy Ray Cyrus that I had grown up surrounded by, this was something different, more sinister and clearly as influenced by the Misifits as the Man in Black. While the songs were based around comfortable tropes of country melodies and lyricism the "could give two fucks less" attitude, frequently heavy rhythms and decidedly punk-influenced arrangements made for a powerful combination. After over an hour and a half, Hank thanked the crowd for "comin' out for the country part of the set" before sending the country diehards off into the night with the infamous "Dick in Dixie," his appropriately vulgar diatribe against pop country.
I don't know if i've ever seen an audience so happy to hear a song. I also don't know if I've ever seen an audience so drunk. It must've been a killer night for bar sales. Hank took a moment to take a photo from the stage during the first set after praising First Avenue (who definitely seem like they share the love)
As the country set wrapped up, Hank wasted no time strapping on an electric guitar (for the first time in the evening) and driving right into the heavier side of things with "Tennessee Driver." These massively sped up hardcore tracks stirred the floor into a huge pit of moshing for less than half an hour before giving way to the only five minute break of the show.
After a short five minute break, with almost half of the crowd on their way out, the lights dimmed and an hour of dark (melodically and visually) Attention Deficit Domination doom metal began. With just drummer Shawn McWilliams and Hank on guitar and heavily processed, warble-heavy vocals, the hour or so seemed to drag on. Maybe by design. After building to a fever pitch with the previous segment, an hour of doom was difficult to handle. Without the visual aid of the cryptic found-footage mockumentary conspiracy theory collage of "Tribulation 99" projected behind the band I'm not sure it could've held my interest. Based on the apparent audience chatter - audible even over the deep guitar work and double-kick drumming - I probably wasn't the only person.
Thankfully, just before midnight the tempo picked up again for the 3 Bar Ranch segment of the show, complete with body armor and bandannas over their faces. Over three hours into the show a fresh hair-whipping drummer and a second guitar player were a welcome addition.