Hank III at the Boulder Theater
A lot of musicians suffer from being bound to genre. They find one niche that works and stick with it, which while it is financially good for them, tends to limit how many albums they put out worth listening to. I am pleased to say that this is not the case with Hank III whose show I caught at the Boulder Theater.
The grandson of Hank Williams Senior, Hank III has had a convoluted musical career and life, delving into genres such as punk and drone metal before realizing that his uncanny physical and vocal resemblance to his grandfather was a marketable trait. Unlike most musicians, rather than focusing on one genre at his shows, he carries his disparate background to the stage. The crowd outside the bar was a clear indication of this, cowboy hatted urban hillbillies rubbing elbows with bikers, punks and slumming white collar professionals.
Hank led off his set with fairly traditional country. Hair tied back, cowboy hat shading his eyes and tattered clothes, he looked like a cross between the crust punks panhandling outside and a set extra for a mad max themed western. There was perhaps an outlaw bent to his early set, with many songs about smoking pot and brushes with the law, but the instrumentation and vocal intonations were standard for the genre. Stand up bass, fiddle, banjo and guitar with a drum forming the background.
As his set continued though, it delved into more of a hellbilly feel, metal riffs effectively (if unexpectedly) melding into the more standard country. By mid-set, the line dancers and country fans had given way to small mosh pits though Hank did an excellent job of blending more standard fare back into keep things from getting too wild.
He did not depend much on talk or stories between songs. He simply moved fluidly from song to song, giving the sense of a professional who had the audiences pulse and was keeping things where he wanted them. It was clear that this was a man in control of his art with an excellent sense for his audience. Later on when a friendly but boisterous drunk leapt on stage and attempted to pour a drink into him it became even more evident that growing up touring with his father and grandfather had taught him valuable lessons in crowd handling. He was able to communicate both ‘thanks’ and ‘not interested’ in a single glance without missing a beat on his guitar or losing a single word of the song he was belting out.
About an hour and a half into the show, the lights went down and the band left stage. At most shows this would be the cue for the audience to demand an encore. In Hanks’ case, it was the beginning of a very different set. Within minutes, Hank re-emerged onto the dimly lit stage with his hair down and a new collection of musicians with bandanas over their face like the villians from an old western. A flickering video montage of alien conspiracy theory and old horror movie clips started up in the background and he began a set of sludgy drone metal.
A lot of the more obvious country fans started filtering out, not quite sure what to make of this new and weird thing that was happening in front of them. It should be noted that this is not unusual. Hanks’ traditional stage set starts out with his country music so as not to drive off the less eclectic fans and builds into whatever weird thing he is feeling on a given night.
Drone is possibly one of the hardest genres to pull off live. Rather than depending on fast riffs or harmony, it is a genre dependent on slowly building tension with minor chords and feedback. Repetitive riffs gradually meld into other riffs and it’s easy to lose an audience. Hank however pulled it off brilliantly. You got the sense that having fulfilled his ‘country quota’ he was now doing what he enjoyed.
Dark droning riffs and heavy drums melded perfectly with the footage of alien/religious/ conspiracy, B grade horror movies and just enough actual news clips from different eras to give a feeling of a weird and oppressive alternate history bearing down on you.
All in all it was a brilliant (if extremely long at around 3 hours) show. If you have any interest in metal, punk, country or drone rock then this is a musician well worth checking out.
Photos and review by Louis Dankovich. Show on 09/04/12.