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Story and photos by Jennifer BronenkantTaking outlaw more than a few steps beyond the music of those he sings about in "Country Heros" - George Jones, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and even well beyond one of the baddest ever David Allan Coe - Shelton Hank Williams better known as Hank 3 to his fans performed a wild three hour set at the Barrymore Theatre.
With his long hair bound tightly in a pony tail under his cowboy hat, Williams looked every bit the outlaw with fully inked arms and wearing a well worn vest and pants covered in patches and pins. Backed by a crack band playing traditional country instruments: stand up bass, fiddle, banjo, steel guitar and drums, he started the show playing his own brand of retro country on his acoustic guitar. He inherited an uncanny resemblance in both looks and voice from his legendary grandfather Hank Williams.
Although his lineage is as country as one can get, Williams is an extremely experimental genre bending artist. He got his start as a drummer and guitar player in punk bands only making the jump to recording more lucrative country after getting a $60,000 bill for back child support for a son born as the result of a one night stand. Since that time he has continued to record both country and punk/rock.
His country music sound harks back to the fifties but his rebellious attitude along with heavy drug and drinking subject matter bring the music to a sort of modern day trailer park hillbilly mixed with punk. His disdain for modern pop country is no secret. He sings about it in "Dick in Dixie."
After ending a contentious 16 year relationship with Curb Records this January, he immersed himself in writing and recording at his home studio for his own label. This tour is promoting the resulting three albums he released simultaneously in September: double country album Ghost to a Ghost/Gutter Town, doom rock album Attention Deficit Domination and speed punk with overdubs of cattle auctioneer's voices Bar Ranch - Cattle Callin.
The first half of the three hour show was all country including some of his new songs along with more of his older work such as "Crazed Country Rebel", "Thrown Out Of The Bar", and "Not Everybody Likes Us." His old stuff is great but it is good to hear the greater variety in his new songs where he continues with the ass kickin' rebellion of before but also veers into Cajun territory with songs such as "Dyin Day." He continued on to some of his hellbelly, punk infused country, with songs such as "Tennessee Driver" which really got the mosh pit going, yes I said mosh pit, the first I've seen at a country show.
About 1 1/2 hours in to the show, Williams graciously thanked those in the audience that came to hear country for coming then took a short break before returning for the second part of the show. About a third of the audience took that as their cue to leave before Williams returned to the stage hat less with long hair down lit only by a small green spot on his guitar. Now only accompanied by the drummer on the dark stage, Williams lit into his doom rock from Attention Deficit Domination. This dark slow pulsating music is not for the faint of heart. As the music went on, there was a slow exodus of fans leaving only the core punk fans left to mosh around to the intense sound.
I can't say I'm a fan of the darker side of his recent releases but I love that this is one artist who follows his own artistic vision to create and experiment. Some of the experimentation may not result in greatness but you have to respect his willingness to take chances in a time when Nashville has managed to reduce the country genre to nothing but pop drivel. Whether one is a fan of Williams' country or punk or maybe both, as hard as that is to imagine, they were treated to a high energy experience unlike any other.
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