Hank3’s show at the Culture Room Wednesday night was a lesson in orderly chaos. With a digital clock sitting on an amp and looming over his left shoulder, the minutes ticked away as Shelton Hank Williams, son of Hank Williams Jr. and grandson of Hank Williams Sr., blew through three sets in three hours that covered retro country, doom metal, and “cattle core,” a Hank3-only genre fusing speed metal with the hypnotic rapidity of auctioneer chanting. Things got rowdy, fights (plural) broke out, and Pabst Blue Ribbon was the drink du jour.
The energy was palpable as Hank3 and his “Damn Band” took the stage around 8:50. Opening with “Nighttime Ramblin Man,” an updated cover of his grandfather’s “Ramblin Man,” the mostly male audience yee-hawed, hugged, stomped. If enthusiasm levels weren’t quite at their honky-tonk max yet, song number three, “Smoke and Wine” took care of it as audience members belted out the chorus “a little bit of smoke and a whole lotta wine!”
Things moved rather swiftly through the two-hour country set, which seemed to be a celebration of all things redneck. Rebel flag? Check. Stripper. Yup. Cut-off shirts? Everywhere. Whiskey was also a recurrent theme.
Hank shows prove, at least ostensibly, that there’s a very fine line between the crazed cowboy and metalhead, with men at least. Aside from the weird confederate nostalgia — which even if it’s only for dress-up feels unfortunate to this reviewer — it was hard to tell who was there to see what. Bald heads, long beards, cowboy hats, free-flowing locks, and tied-back ponytails criss-crossed, moshed, high-fived ever so ardently. And this is part of the beauty of a Hank3 show: exposing people to those with whom they would probably never musically engage.
Nevertheless, the place cleared by half — no more rebel flags — when Hank3 started his doom set, which consisted mostly of his Attention Deficit Domination material. It probably didn’t help crowd retention that he opened the set with covers of “Dopesmoker” (about five minutes of the song) and “Holy Mountain” (almost nine minutes) by stoner gods Sleep. Those mostly instrumental, heavy soundscapes aren’t for everyone, and are a pretty jarring transition when they follow the more rockabilly (“Hellbilly”) stuff he concluded his country set with.
With the doom came the locks. Here, he let his hair down, which before was held back in a neat pony-tail with ties all the way down as if the tail were a spine. The lights dimmed, and just Hank and the drummer shared the stage. This was the darkest set of the evening, visually and sonically, and continued the stoner vibe he flaunted during his country set, albeit in a different way. ADD is not his strongest material, but it’s clear he’s a huge fan of the slow, uncompromising quality of doom. (He’s apparently traveling with all the gear Sleep used to record Dopesmoker and Holy Mountain.) That’s not to say his foray into the swampier bowels of metal wasn’t boring. It was, which was made even clearer when the fights that broke out proved an entertaining distraction.
Mad Max-style armor and bandit masks came out with the third and final set. While I’m generally biased in favor of doomier stuff, Hank3 excels with faster material. So the cattle-core set was an interesting improvement, even if it wasn’t entirely convincing. The auctioneer vocals get repetitive — not too much of a surprise — yet there are a few redeeming moments when it all meshes nicely into a kind of speedy, industrial, noisy, manic joke. If he can make those moments more frequent, he might develop it into something more nuanced. (Though I sincerely hope, for the sake of the metal community, auctioneering doesn’t become a real trend.)