So I’m chatting with my sister about grass-fed vs. corn-fed beef, organic vs. GMO, big corp. food vs. the farmer wanting to grow a top-notch product…and we’re sitting inside the Showbox at The Market waiting for the Hank3 show to start. And as Hank Williams III takes the stage and things get underway, I’m struck by another battle between THE MAN and the little guy, namely the music machine vs. Hank III himself. And in this instance Hank is clearly winning.
Hank is touring in support of two albums simultaneously released on his own Hank3 label on October 1st; a double country album entitled Brothers of the 4×4 and a hardcore punk album, A Fiendish Threat. For most people mixing country and punk seems like trying to mix oil and water together, but Hank3 and his punk outfit ‘3’ have done more than just that. The sub-genre known as ‘hellbilly’ is going strong…which you will instantly find the moment you walk into a Hank3 show, where a person sporting a mowhawk and wearing an impeccable plaid country shirt can be found moshing with a hayseed-cowboy-hatted maniac. Safety pins and leather fringe together? Absolutely.
The band took the Showbox Market stage at 8pm sharp, and there were no opening bands. Hank3’s country set started off a bit slowly with the crowd favorite ‘Straight To Hell’, and the feel was a bit less energetic than the last time I had seen them. Yet take heart: when you start a marathon, you don’t want to come out of the gate with guns blazing. Because Hank Williams III plays for four hours straight. After the first few songs things began to get more intense as the drum set was attacked with more ferocity and stand-up bassist Zach Shedd traded thwomping on his instrument with hardcore backing yells. It was a treat to see seasoned slide guitar musician Wayne Hancock as part of the Hank3 show; Hancock is a fabulous musician in his own right and is worth checking out, especially if you are a fan of Hank Sr.’s work. Hank III played acoustic guitar and was obviously enjoying himself, winking at the ladies and riling up the whole crowd.
After two solid hours of country music, Hank announced that the country set was over and exchanged his cowboy topper for a worn Copenhagen hat and his canvas vest for a plain black work shirt with a ‘3’ emblazoned on the breast. After the fiddle and slide left the stage, the punk part of the show began. The sound was hardcore, harking back to the days of crust punk but with much a much cleaner vocal than Hank’s previous punk project Assjack. In fact, I was happily surprised that the vast majority of the crowd hung around and head-banged along to the ‘3’ portion of the show; when Assjack took the stage back in 2006 at El Corazon the crowd had suddenly and joltingly disappeared. I find this new genre-hopping staying power to be a great testament to Hank III as he has stuck by his own musical beginnings in the punk scene while carving his own niche in a three generations strong country tradition. He has taken these elements and forged something completely new without the help of a record label, and people are accepting it and responding in a very positive way.
The night ended with a viewing of Hank’s film Tribulation 99, which seemed to be a cobbling together of various sci-fi B-movies and news reel footage. A third lineup involving Hank on electric guitar, the drummer, and a keyboardist provided a doom-metal soundtrack to the film, and the imagery worked very well with the mood of the music. For those interested in this style of Hank’s music, you can explore Attention Deficit Domination, a record Hank III released in 2011. For all of Hank III’s references to getting high, getting drunk, 4x4ing, and hunting with his beloved dog, Trooper, there is ample evidence that he is a hardworking, multi-talented musician executing his vision left and right. It may not be the sort of thing that the music industry makes much of, but Hank3’s solid fan base is the proof in the hillbilly pudding.