The Assjacks of Hazzard

Hank Williams III puts the "dick" in Dixie, and the mosh pit in a country music show

"I Predict a Riot" is that shitty, unoriginal Clash-rip-off of a song by that shitty, unoriginal band the Kaiser Chiefs. It was also the thought running through my head at the Hank Williams III show last week at the Independent. Hank was three tunes into what would turn out to be nearly a three-hour set, and already a couple of yahoos were causing a ruckus. They were down toward the front, standing just behind the guy in the cowboy hat seated in the wheelchair with the Confederate flag sewn onto the back (whoops). Both yahoos were wearing 10-gallon hats; Yahoo A sported a wife-beater, Yahoo B a black shirt, and both had that look on their faces that dudes get right before a girl's about to flash her tatas at a frat party. Hank was playing his acoustic country set, which included songs about drinking and being rowdy, albeit tamer takes on the subjects than those soon to come. Nevertheless, Yahoo A, following the beat of his own shit-faced drummer, and egged on by Yahoo B, was stomping and thrashing around the floor as if this were Ozzfest. People were pushing back. Security was dishing out warnings. Warnings piss rowdy drunk cowboys off even more, and there were a lot of rowdy drunk cowboys in the room already.

Then a curious thing happened: Yahoo B, who so far had managed to dodge the reprimands of security, took a call on his cell phone -- in the middle of a Hank Williams III song and a room full of, er, ruraltypes. It was a curious sight. Up to that point, all signs indicated that here was a man who knew his way around a bottle of Beam and his cousin's cooter. And yet he was taking a call on his cell.

"Settle down, Curly Sue," I imagined him saying in a Bakersfield accent. "No, Linux is a different platform. We use Windows XP. Uh-huh. Then tell Reginald to download the driver and install it on the K drive."

To tell you the truth, the sight warmed my heart, because here we were faced with the stereotype of the dunderheaded modern cowboy. And Yahoo B broke that stereotype by answering his cell phone, which cowboys, who ride horses and speak in smoke signals, don't usually have.

Seriously, though, nothing makes me happier than trumping stereotypes. And good goddamn does Hank Williams III grill, chomp, and shit out any label you can place on him.

I'll admit I'm totally late to the party on this one. I wasn't a fan of Hank III before the night started; I tagged along with some friends because I basically had nothing else to do (sorry, producers of Stealth). The opening act, the Wayward Drifters, included a banjo player who looked like Uncle Jesse and who was actually introduced as Banjo Dan, and the titles of its first few songs -- "Outlaw Something or Other," "Ghost Train" -- seemed to also be the first words of the songs, and maybe even the choruses. Initially, all this talk of copious whiskey drinking and the judge's no-good ways wasn't winning me over. But as the revelers got into it, joining forces for one tune to yell a boisterous "Fuck you!" to all the heartbreakers of the world, I started feeling fine. Country songs are like hymns: They're simple, designed so that everyone in the crowd can get on the same page, take the same ride, hoist the same glass, snort the same line of crystal meth, etc.

Hank III is used to having crowds like this on his side, and he knows what to do with their expectations: twist, subvert, and challenge them. He spent the first hour of his set paying tribute to his roots, performing twangy, galloping originals that mainly concerned the aforementioned whiskey while still leaving enough room in the conversation for weed, speed, and coke. It was curious, therefore, when he broke out "Okie From Muskogee," Merle Haggard's rant about the counterculture. That's the kind of guy Hank is, though: He has great respect for the past and he understands the importance of tradition, but he doesn't let those things limit who he is today, doesn't let a stereotype or a predisposition define him or his music. As he sang on "Dick in Dixie," "So I'm here to put the 'dick' in Dixie/ And the 'cunt' back in country/ 'Cause the kind of country I hear nowadays/ Is a bunch of fuckin' shit to me."

As my friend pointed out, the show was one of the purest rock 'n' rollconcerts he'd ever been to, and in the truest sense of the word -- meaning that mix of danger and rebellion and freedom that you just don't see much of these days. Hank III can play traditionally red-state music, with fiddles and slide guitars no less, while at the same time advocating marijuana use and calling for the sacking of Nashville. Now that's rock 'n' roll.

How rock 'n' roll was it? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Assjack.

Assjack is what happens at a Hank III show after Hank and his acolytes have worshipped at the altar of outlaw country. Assjack is Hank on electric guitar (a ferocious Gibson SG, to be precise) and backup vocals, the drummer and bassist from Hank's country set, and a shaved gorilla in a sleeveless black T-shirt who screams holy hell when he's not swan diving into the crowd or beating himself bloody with the microphone. It's Slayer crossed with the Gorilla Biscuits crossed with Black Flag, and it's the side project (main project?) of the grandson of one the most famous folk singers of all time. Cute, that.

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