Words by: Sarah Hagerman | Images from: www.hank3.com
Hank Williams III/Assjack :: 02.18.09 :: Emo's Alternative Lounge :: Austin, TX
Emo's Alternative Lounge was a frenzy of fists pumping, cowboy hats waving, throats rubbed hoarse screaming lyrics and, as the evening progressed, slam pits roiling in a cornucopia of boot stomping, beer spilling, inhaling, huffing and snorting freaks. Hippies were selling paintings outside, older gentlemen in wrangler western shirts were knocking back beer after beer at the bar, chain wearing kids in black chain-smoked and dolled-up rockabilly gals tottered on dangerous looking patent leather high heels. Some were affecting a hybrid look, lots of black, punk rock patches with a cowboy hat on top to emulate their hero. But, all were united by a common gospel of getting wasted and raisin' hell, and when the preacher strolled on stage, Hank Williams the Third inspired a deafening roar. "This show is dedicated to all you motherfuckers for supporting live music!" he shouted before kicking off with "Trashville." Hank III is a proud shit stirrer to be sure, pissing on Nashville's ivory towers and keeping the endangered outlaw country tradition alive.
|Hank Williams III by Ben Cossel|
Well, I used to think that country
Was out of Nashville Tennessee
But all I see in Nashville
Is a bunch of backstabbers takin' you and me
They don't care about the music, ya see
Well, I used to think that country
Was out of Nashville, Tennessee
I'd rather take my things and
Go back to Texas, ya see.
Witnessing the self-described "Jekyll and Hyde show," where after a set of his rambunctious country tunes, he tears off the cowboy hat, both literally and figuratively, to perform a punk "hellbilly" set followed by the screaming metal of Assjack, is further confirmation of his stubborn mould-breaking. Most artists worth spending time with have musical interests that fall beyond prescribed genre markers, but few embrace these multiple personalities so openly and with such un-compromised abandon. I truly admire his refusal to negotiate his passions for metal and punk, to play it safe and comfortable, and one also has to give serious props for the stamina required to burn through three sets that hit like pure sonic amphetamine. It seems he has inspired at least some of his fans to grasp both sides as well – one of the sights of the evening branded in my brain is that of cowboy hats flying in a pit during Assjack.
|Hank Williams III - Assjack by Mike Boles|
If you don't feel at least a little raucous and uninhibited during a Hank III show you should probably question the combination of those pills you took. Anthems of druggy darkness become a mass middle finger you want to wave at the first cop, politician or TV preacher's face you see after the show is over. During "Straight to Hell," I yelled, "You just better give me one more round!" with everyone else, an insane grin spread across my face, jumping up and down with my hands waving wildly in the air. But there's also honorable authenticity in these songs, heads held high through the hard times and hard drinking, coming out the other side with thick skin and defiant words.
"No matter what they take from you," Williams yelled early in the country set. "They won't take your good friends, good times and good music." As it drove through my skull, it occurred to me that "Six Pack of Beer," from his latest album Damn Right Rebel Proud, is an apt anthem for the recession:
Well, workin' real hard
Ain't hard to do
When you got you a lotta' money comin' to you
But I ain't got a dime
So, I'll just sit here
Even though I'm broke
I've got a six-pack of beer
To play with Williams you gotta throw yourself head first into the dark Pentecost. The Damn Band play it rough and rowdy, all those purty country pedal steel and fiddle flourishes replaced by the ecstatic release of Andy Gibson's screaming steel and the incendiary Adam McOwen's chainsawing fiddle. No country slow burners here - they throw dynamite into the dance hall and peel away from the scene, tires squealing and mud flying. The swing and stomp they executed during the country set drove the blood straight to your head. Assjack singer Gary Lindsey came out to add his bellow to a few numbers, like a pavement pounding "Long Hauls and Close Calls," where the shout of "Texaaas!" from the stage was matched by the crowd (drowning out Lindsey is no easy task), the brooding "3 Shades of Black" and "Punch Fight Fuck" (that's a to-do list for you!), which featured heavy swathes of bass, punchy drumming and brain-slicing fiddle, riding off into manic swerves that fit its dedication to the infamous mad man GG Allin.
|Gary Lindsey - Assjack by Mike Boles|
A tribute to Williams' country heroes and influences pierced to the heart of what country music should be. David Allan Coe's "The Ride," slipped into Kris Kristofferson's "If You Don't Like Hank Williams" (you have to shout the next line, "Then you can kiss my ass!"), starting off measured but gradually shaking up and fizzing with fury. The son of a son reclaimed some of his "Family Tradition" from his father, Hank Williams Jr., who's performed bastardized versions of the song with Kid Rock and a McCain-Palin version on the campaign trail last year. He also tackled the ominous Hank Williams Sr. number "I'll Never Get Out of this World Alive." The physical and vocal resemblance of Williams to his grand dad has often been mentioned, but seeing him live, it can't help but give you chills. After a rollicking "Cocaine Blues," Williams ended the set with his original material, going from "Little Bit of Smoke" through the growling, moving "Country Heroes" and finishing on "Dick in Dixie." The song order drew an arrow, from honoring true country legends to standing up for his family name to taking his place as one of the rightful torchbearers of that outlaw tradition.
The limitations of William's Curb Records contract, which has a handful of months left, have left him without any options to officially explore his hellbilly and metal work on record, although bootlegs circulate. Once Williams is finally free of Curb, there should be some kick ass output to look forward to. I will admit I am not as familiar with this other side of Hank, but I got down with the hellbilly. In a seamless switch, DIY wires fused in unruly snaps and snarls as a trucker hat sporting Williams and co. ambushed Emo's with a gruff timing belt. The punk velocity that had been scratching under the surface ripped free, inhaling gasoline fumes and knocking back moonshine, at times infused with a slippery psychobilly twang. McOwen looked like he was about to split his fiddle right in half with his bow. Muddy, dirty and hollering to embrace a "Life of Sin," this set was a real shit kicker, especially "White Trash Part 2," whose rusty-spurs left a savage bruise. Williams and Lindsey barked out the lyrics: "Holes in my boots, tattoos on my back/ I guess that's why those rich folks call me white trash!"
Hellbilly was over too soon, but after a short break, Assjack brought their brutal energy, with Lindsey taking a more pronounced lead vocal role and Zach Shedd (who is replacing Joe Buck, who's off touring with his own solo project, Joe Buck Yourself) switching to electric bass. Before the set, Williams bumped fists with the folks in the front row, his long, sweaty hair tumbling over the front of the stage, as the crowd bumped against each other with riled up energy ready to explode the minute the beast onstage broke forth. I planted myself further back to take it in. Make no mistake about it - Assjack is real fucking metal that will shatter your skull and leave your ears ringing.
|Adam McOwen by Mike Boles|
Lindsey has a hell of a fearless stage presence, throwing himself every which way, bellowing from the bowels of hell, with some bloodletting to boot. Williams would whip his head around while shredding over machine gun drumming that dissolved into thundering rolls with quick snaps. Thematically, the speaker shakers tie in with the honky tonk with songs about cocaine ("Look out for the white devil! He will bring you down!"), redneckery and flying fists. It's another face of rebel pride, and in popular culture's stifling vanilla-flavored world it's that "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" attitude at its barest boiling point.
During Assjack's set, in a moment where the feedback buzzed, holding its breath before the violent rush took hold, Williams yelled, "You've got to live life with no fucking regrets!" Watching Williams' intensity you get the sense that he's holding a sparking fuse, grabbing each moment full throttle, pushing those self destructive edges to the breaking points traced in his bloodline, owning his narrative. But no matter where the plot leads, this M-80 will leave a smoldering trail, scorching scars across that night sky. Long after the Nashville pop country rat race has finally run its course, his hellacious presence will still be howling from that heart of darkness.
Sign the petition to get Hank Williams Sr. reinstated into the Grand Ole Opry here.
And check our exclusive feature/interview with Hank III here.
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