For the uninitiated, Hank Williams III (grandson of the legendary Hank Williams, son of Hank Williams Jr.) puts on one of the most exciting live sets in music right now. Reaching deep into the roots from whence he came, he plays almost an hour and a half of unadulterated outlaw country complete with banjo, fiddle and pedal steel guitar. He segues into a more rocking form of country that he refers to as “Hellbilly” music, adding electric guitars to the mix and dialing up the volume. And then finally, eschewing the country base, Hank III (as he commonly refers to himself) returns with his co-lead singer Gary Lindsey and his metal group Assjack. All told, the man performs a staggering set nearing three hours in length. On a brisk night in West Hollywood at the Roxy, a sold-out crowd was primed and ready for this and more.
Unlike Hank III’s previous performance at the Roxy in Los Angeles, this set contained few covers during the country set. Instead, III reached deep into his own catalog bringing out deep cuts from Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’ “Mississippi Mud,” “Trashville” and “5 Shots of Whiskey,” the last of which a true rarity. The crowd went into a raucous frenzy early on, III’s call of “I guess they don’t like the way we like to have our fun / ’cause I’m always out there and I’m on the run / and I’m runnin’ and a gunnin’ and a lookin’ for a damn good time,” building up joy, while the knock-down fury of “I’ve got a little bit of smoke / and a whole lot of wine” on “Smoke & Wine” brought the whole room to a chorus.
Hank III’s stage presence on live staples “Thrown Out of the Bar,” “D Ray White” and “Pills I Took” was as sharp as ever, his demeanor portraying a comfort level that one might think he’s rarely off stage. For the diehard fans, the only real disappointment here was the absence of Hank III “damn band” mainstays Adam McOwen and Joe Buck. Their replacements had plenty of fire and were more than technically competent, but something about McOwen and Buck just seemed to complement the raw country frenzy better. Three of Hank III’s finest songs closed out the country set, the unapologetic and pure “Not Everybody Likes Us,” the hillbilly Shakespeare ode “D Ray White” and the furious pop country call-out “Dick in Dixie.”
A slightly longer than usual Hellbilly set followed featuring the brutal firepower of “Livin’ it Up,” “White Trash” and “Go Fuck You,” the latter of which a freight train of rollicking energy with a memorable hook that could’ve easily landed it amongst the best of Black Flag’s early catalog. Lindsey joined the set at this point adding extra weight to the vocals and generally hyping the crowd further. Already moshing for over an hour, the audience went into full-tilt circle pit as the band chanted with glee each successive call-and-response.
And last but certainly not least came the Assjack set after a short intermission. Usually far shorter than the country set, on this night III’s own variety of heavy metal played for just as long. The crowd dissipated as those of less resolve quietly exited out. Those remaining slammed around with joyful abandon. “Smoke that Fire,” “Choking Gesture” and “No Regrets” were all maniacally heavy, III’s hair now let down and swiveling around in true headbanger fashion, the country rasp now fully converted into a death metal roar. In the Assjack set there were some really choice covers. In full sludge metal mode III let loose the opening notes of The Melvins menacing “Joan of Arc,” a delightful dirge with a bellowing scream. Also featured was a medley incorporating pieces of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher,” Ministry’s “Stigmata” and Slayer’s “Angel of Death.” The real standout of this later, not-for-the-weak-at-heart portion of the show was the relentless assault of “Gravel Pit.” There’s nothing quite like Hank Williams III out there. Timid fans might be hesitant to give this a shot, but for anyone looking for something beyond the banality of middle-of-the-road music, look no further.