Hank Williams III – Patton Avenue Pub (Asheville, NC)
“We’re gonna do some songs about drinkin’ and smokin’ and bein’ up all night and livin’ free,” proclaimed 27-year-old Shelton Hank Williams III as he took the stage, three shots of appeared to be Jaegermaister perched atop a speaker in a perfect line behind his left shoulder. “And if we get drunk enough, we’re gonna launch into some hillbilly punk,” he tossed out with a swagger, staring the crowd down.
The crowd — an odd mix of pierced-and-tattooed young hipsters, middle-aged honky-tonk fans, older country-music aficionados, and one cheesy Bocephus lookalike — roared, some a bit suspiciously. Was this single-pigtailed punkster (a self-proclaimed Sid Vicious fanatic, for chrissakes) in fact the same crown prince that certain folks had pinned their hopes upon to ascend country music’s high throne?
Decked out in a ruby-red western shirt (with a tattered black Misfits T-shirt lurking tellingly underneath) and an oversized white cowboy hat, Hank III and his four-piece band launched first into a breakneck-speed version of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee” that left little doubt about one thing, at least: This ain’t your (or his) grandfather’s country music.
For the next hour and a half, Williams and the boys unleashed a show that was part rock ‘n’ roll, driven in no small part by Jesus Lizard guitarist Duane Dennison, and the rest rockabilly-infused honky-tonk with a haunted edge. Haunted, because Hank III looks and sounds eerily like Hank Sr.: all knife-edged cheekbones, faraway stares and lonesome yowls. Shredding through “Cocaine Blues” and Wayne Hancock’s bass-slapping anthem “Johnny Law”, the band only slowed down — at least somewhat — for such tunes as Hancock’s dirgelike “Why Don’t You Leave Me Alone?” and the stone-cold, pure twang of Randy Howard’s “I Don’t Know”.
As the heavy air in the jam-packed club swelled with the spooky sense of drinking oneself to death (“Don’t forget to get dog-drunk before y’all get outta here,” Hank advised at one point), Williams announced it was time to “get on that train and pay a couple of respects, but we won’t be there long.” Indeed, we weren’t. But Hank III’s high, forlorn yodel in a rendition of “Long Gone Lonesome Blues” and the sullen cockiness of “Move It On Over” left no doubt we were in the presence of an heir to the same raw bloodline that died alone on a dark road in the back seat of a Cadillac at the impossible age of 29.
The honky-tonk set ended with “Let’s Put The Dick Back In Dixie And The Cunt Back In Country”, a solid kick in the balls (and ovaries) aimed at Nashville’s pretty-boy-and-girl “contemporary country” posers. But the band’s rock sensibilities sometimes marred what might have been pure, down-and-dirty twang, perhaps more appropriate to several of the deep, dark country offerings. A good pedal steel player could have worked wonders.
In preparation for the hillbilly punk portion of the evening, Hank III shrugged out of his western shirt and launched into a litany of nasty, thrashing distortion broken only by shouted commands to the sound guy: “Stretch that fuzz as loud and far as you can!” As it turned out, that wasn’t very far. Three short songs into the set, Hank III and company blew out two of the club’s house speakers and the band’s own P.A. system. No announcement that the show had ended was necessary.