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The Rodeo Bar will never be the same...
Hank III Live at the Rodeo Bar 2/27/99

By Billy Axe

NEW YORK - I arrived at 8 Pm for a 10Pm show and I was lucky to get a stool seat right behind the seating/table area. Already there was a line for tables and most of the people waiting since 8 would never get seated and wound up standing. The place was getting jam packed and by show time looked definitely beyond fire code capacity. I decided early on that I wasn't gonna have a single drink because getting to the restroom was gonna be impossible and my seat would surely be taken. I expected to be there for a 5 hour night and that s exactly how long it took.

Hank III came out early and set up his own equipment. I don't think many people recognized him with his long pony tail and his non western wear. He hit the stage at 10:30 and the crowd was so tightly packed that bodies were crammed right against us who were sitting on stools along the side. Hank wore a western shirt and a cowboy hat hiding his pony tail and he strummed an acoustic guitar.

He opened up with a Wayne Hancock song, 'Juke Joint Jumpin.' And the crowd gave him a tremendous ovation. Throughout the night he would play about 8 Wayne the Train songs. It was amazing how much he looked like his Granddaddy in his mannerisms while singing. He sure sounded like Hank also. Doing great versions of "My Buckets Got a Hole In it, Move it On Over, and an unbelievable version of "Long Gone Lonesome Blues." I mean he totally hit all the notes that Hank used too. That might have been the highlight of the set. He warned us before the song that he had been singing like Henry Rollins for the last few days and he might not hit the mark on the song. But he got it all right!

Its a shame that he has been wasting this talent all these years playing his punk stuff. The Punk influence shows through even in the country songs with a feeling of high energy. Some of his Honky Tonk songs were speeded up and they really chugged along. Part of what made the songs not seemed rushed was the exceptional tightness of the backup band. The upright bass player is real good and has a great bass sound that doesn't get lost among the other instruments. The drummer had no trouble with the fast stuff. The guitarist originally from Jesus Lizard was very competent playing country licks as well as the heavier stuff that would come later. But the main focus was on Hank III. They had a fiddle player that was lightning fast. Hank III has really assembled a great band. He commented to the crowd that they usually have a pedal steel player but he just wouldn't play any of Hanks punk stuff. For an hour they played great Honky Tonk Country. Yes, just the way hank did it.

Early on Hank said that he would be playing a country part of the set then a different part of the set that would let some demons out. Well, he was right. But he did it slowly. For the next song the lead guitarist switched to a distorted guitar sound and Hank announced the next song was called "Lets put the Dick in Dixie and the Cunt in Country." This song was still a country rhythm sorta but punk style. Next Hank took off the cowboy hat and the western shirt and switched to an electric guitar. Now the heavy stuff really came in.

Yes, the Rodeo Bar would never be the same as all the songs for the next half hour were so fast your tappin' foot couldn't keep up. And half the songs had lyrics that included a screaming 'Fuck You' in it. I can imagine what the Rodeo bar staff must have thought.

The crowd fell right in. I thought I was back in a Heavy Metal club in the 80's. It was like the Heavy metal Heads suddenly came out of the woodwork. People started rushing up through the table seating to the front of the stage. One guy whipped his shirt off and was pumping his fist in the air. People started walking across the tables to try to get a better position while a few people turned and left. Other people were sitting up on the counters across from the bar. Another guy was standing on a table and was banging on the air ducts producing a loud echoing rumble.

After 30 minutes of anger and aggression, Hank faked going off for an encore and returned to the traditional country stuff. The hat returned. He played about another hour of strict country songs. Lots from his new album as well as a few new songs. I think he has enough material for a new album already.

On a few occasions he mentioned Wayne Hancock at one point saying, "He's a great man. I love him to death." At the end of the set he said. "Go and check out guys like Wayne Hancock and Dale Watson," saying something to the effect that they are real country.

I loved the show. I think he is exceptional at playing the country stuff, as for the punk stuff he's only average. I have heard that the punk stuff is his main thing and he at one time wanted nothing to do with country. I'd like to think that he has started to realize how good his grandfathers style is and has acquired an interest towards it.

I myself have some wide and varied tastes in music from Country to the heavy stuff so having a true passion for both is possible in my eyes. But I really hope with age he stays with the country stuff.

So it was a long night. I watched alot of shoving and arguing in the crowd, but seeing a 2 and half hour set of Hank III was well worth it. Hank III is an entertaining performer and the energy from the stage even during the country songs rubbed off all over the crowd. I find it hard to believe he is doing this just for the money. Check him out. I certainly will again. IN fact I'll be seeing him in Austin in two weeks at South By South West.

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