Atlanta Masquerade

Country music's most famous grandson packs quite a punch...

[a]Hank Williams III[/a] goes onstage with his ‘rock’n’roll-country’ band immediately after a life-sized bong wins tonight’s Halloween costume contest. Unlike most of the last decade’s alt-country scenesters who didn’t even bother aligning or distancing themselves with the city of Nashville, he makes his stance clear almost immediately. Either through direct statements (calling Nashville a “manufactured town”) or through a cover of ‘Cocaine Blues’ that’s obviously informed by outlaw patriarch Johnny Cash‘s 1969 ‘Folsom Prison’ album, it’s clear that Hank III doesn’t have much time for the Shanias and Dixie Chicks of the world.

His between-song banter is refreshing, and is matched by his witty lyrics. Among other things, we learn early on that he “got a tattoo at a tender age”. The crowd gets jumping during ‘Country Music The Way It Used To Be’ – he might sound like his famous grandfather, but the cascading power chords actually bring to mind the proto-punk blueprint laid down by The Who and the MC5.

At this point, the country part of the show ends, as Hank exchanges his beat-up acoustic guitar for a beat-up electric. And while his punk persona isn’t quite as convincing (and drags on about five songs too long) as his country side, it still packs quite a punch. It’s way past midnight; ‘I’m Drunk’ is greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm and why not? Pretty much everyone else here is either also drunk or at least bemused by the naked man wearing only a barrel.

Perhaps the finest moment of the night comes with the autobiographical ‘Tennessee Driver’. It’s about a young man with a Mohawk whose car breaks down in a rural area, and who is impolitely turned away when he tries to use the phone at a redneck bar. As the song winds down with its “Fuck you, motherf—er” coda, the verdict is in. Hank III is alt-country even Shellac‘s Steve Albini could tip his 10-gallon hat to.

Christopher Huttman