by Ari Roth
Hank Williams III – stylized as Hank3 – is the only act I have ever seen who plays without an opener. Instead, he has the entire lineup unto himself, playing blistering, exhausting four hour sets that are divided between hardscrabble honky tonky country, blistering LA hardcore punk, and sludgy doom metal. His fans are understandably rabid, and the line into the Trocadero Theatre for his show on Wednesday night was among the longest and rowdiest that I’ve ever seen at a show in Philly.
It is clear that Hank takes the notion of lineage seriously. On one level, he is the grandson of the legendary Hank Williams, probably the most influential country singer of all time, and the first of his sets is certainly roots-oriented, traditional barroom country, albeit played with a vicious intensity and high volume that suggests the influence of his more abrasive leanings. On another level, he is also clearly invested in connecting the dots through half a century of American music – his country is hardcore, his hardcore is country, his metal is both. He even dedicates a few songs to a conscious fusion of country and hardcore punk, which he nicknames “hellbilly music.” Even at his most extreme, playing long, hyperdistorted droning riff metal jams that seem to wind into infinity, you can still detect his southern twang, the way his voice curls around the lyrics.
Although the sets are fairly clearly delineated, with shifts in personnel, lighting, and even costume (Hank switches hats no less than three times throughout the evening), there is a sense that all of these styles of music exist along the same continuum, so that when, for instance, the drummer executes some rapid kick drum blastbeats during a song late in the country section of the show, it doesn’t feel remotely out of place. The upright slap bass in the hardcore section also makes sense, and it draws a link between the 2/4 up-down rhythm of traditional country, and the double time energy of punk. The audience behavior was quite similar too, with hardcore-style moshing and aggressive dancing and screaming through all three sets, demonstrating that things really have not changed that much since the time of Hank’s grandfather.
As I am not a diehard fan, the relentless energy and sheer length of the show meant that it eventually began to feel monotonous, and the crowd – which was probably mostly there primarily for the country – began to thin noticeably by the time that the third set was underway. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by the sheer intensity and incredible skill and endurance of the band, playing this marathon set of deceptively complex and technically demanding music seamlessly across a number of styles. At the heart of all this was Hank Williams III, a brave and supremely talented musician who refuses to be cowed by the massive legacy of his family, staying true to his roots while taking his music into new realms.