Hank 3 outlasted most of his audience last night at the Boulder Theater. Exceeding even the expectations he himself set, he played more than the three and a half hours he said he's playing on this tour. By the time he launched into the third and final set of the evening, a good three quarters of the initial crowd was gone. Too bad. Those folks missed Hank and the band dressed up in what looked like something out of Mad Max if it took place in Texas. On the screen behind the outfit, also lit by the dim green light, was a projection of a movie called Tribulation 99, and what ensued sure sounded like music for the post-apocalypse.
With a razor sharp precision and speed, Hank and the rest of the band hammered out a kind of aggressive music akin to death metal, grindcore and avant-garde guitar music that recalled John Zorn during his days with Naked City. Hands blurred as the riffing was executed. The drummer's blast beats seemed effortless as he laid down some of the most creative and heavy percussion of its type with finesse and not just speed and power.
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One of the most brilliant aspects of this section of the show happened when the auctioneer samples were played and the group matched it for speed and cadence while playing music that, on the surface, flies in the face of the cultural backdrop for most people who do bid calling. Bringing the two ideas together and showing their similarity rather than differences seemed like a stroke of genius.
The first part of the show, and the longest, consisted of the country music and hellbilly material. It was obvious that this music holds the widest appeal of Hank 3's songwriting because during this part of the show there was far and away the most dancing. To be fair, Hank 3 and his band perform this style of music so superbly and with such confidence and charisma it draws you in.
Hank 3 is also able to spin his stories and imagery in a way that anyone can relate to if you have a little life experience under your belt. "Gutter Town" had an unexpected vibrancy and "The Rebel Within" was profane and transcendent as the band chanted along the choruses with the crowd. The song that probably seemed to sum up the evening in some ways is the defiant spirit and words of "Dick in Dixie," in which Hank 3 denounced pop country in no uncertain words.
Past the halfway mark of this set the band played "I'll Never Get Out of Here Alive" by Hank Williams Sr., who Hank 3 said had been called the "hillbilly Shakespeare." This was an observation that resonates with the way Hank 3 builds his own lyrical couplets into mythic and even universal human experiences. It was during this song that you had to be impressed with the pedal steel player who had played the instrument not only masterfully in a conventional manner but also for the various noises, musical and otherwise, he was able to elicit.
At the nearly two hour mark in the show, most of the musicians left the stage and Hank 3 came back on but was shrouded in darkness and illuminated from the back and side by green light with a projection going on in the background. That projection was Tribulation 99 and its depiction of political misdeeds and conspiracy theory alongside the metaphysical and ideas about mysterious places on earth like Easter Island.
The music started with a grinding but somehow melodious drone that could have been bass or guitar tuned incredibly low. The overall effect was like getting to see Sleep again, except more controlled and focused for longer. Hank 3's voice also sounded like it had the same effect used by Al Cisneros or even Joe Preston on some Thrones' songs. He seemed to use it for the next two sets, and it sure gave the air of the otherworldly.
Personal Bias: I'm a fan of Hank 3's full repertoire and thought it odd that so many people left when he got heavy. Apparently it's not for everyone.
Random Detail: Ran into Reed Bruemmer of Speedwolf at the show.
By the Way: No stabbings or heart attacks at this show. Just a lot of people having a good time and scattered incidents of hooliganism of the harmless variety.
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