March 17, 2012
New York City
This is not your grandfather’s country music.
In fact, it’s the music of the Third Generation.
Hank Williams III, son of the half-baked Bocephus, grandson of the immortal Hank Williams, practices a radical form of outlaw country, existing so far outside the contemporary Nashville establishment that most people don’t know he even exists or that his lineage is legendary.
If you thought you knew what modern country music was, you were deathly mistaken.
Hank III is a shape-shifter. His form of country is the Bakersfield sound whacked out on pills, sped up honky-tonk with a bruising attitude. There is also his brand of hellbilly, which incorporates hardcore and a snarling punk aesthetic. You notice a Misfits sticker on Hank’s guitar. Cowpunk never sounded so raw, intense, alive.
But then there’s something else…
Hank III is also a devout metalhead.
Thirty minutes into his live set, there is a turn towards a much darker strain of American music. The band exits, leaving Hank and his drummer to scrap it out. Lights drop and Hank removes his hat, letting his hair fall, completely masking his face. The transformation is complete, and the doom metal set begins. The voice mutated, strained beyond recognition, the high-lonesome sound of the earlier songs trampled underfoot.
Heavy chords, plodding drums, the classic sludge sound reimagined.
And then, something more…
Another iteration, a blacker form of metal, with nods to Norway and Sweden. A second guitarist is added, brandishing a Flying V. Hank dons a leather battlesuit with spikes. They both cover their faces with black bandanas and the well-worn cowboy hats return.
Metal terrorists mining territory unknown to the modern country enthusiast.
The set changes yet again, with Hank riffing hard with only the drummer in an old-school metal way. Something more akin to early thrash, with furious, hyperextended guitar solos.
Who knew Hank could shred like this?
Two solid hours of country, honky-tonk, hellbilly, hardcore, punk, doom, metal—all performed with a burning sense of truth, history and mission by Hank Williams III. What more could a rabid music fan want on a Saturday night in New York City?
When all is said and done, Hank III occupies a completely unique space in modern music, standing firm at the edge of the plank, ready and willing to dive head first into the abyss of artistic reinvention, historical revision and unfettered creative possibility.
Where will he go from here?
Photos and video by the Concert Club for the Rock File