Chip off the old block—or just a chip on the shoulder?

Hank III’s bait-and-switch has become a bore

Like his dad and his granddad before him, Hank Williams III hates Nashville. Hank Senior was kicked off the Grand Ole Opry because he couldn’t show up to work sober, and only really became accepted after he was dead in the ground. Bocephus struggled with the Nashville scene of the 1960s, then threw his hat in the Texas ring and joined the Outlaw crowd of the ’70s, in Austin.

Not to be outdone, Hank III spent all but a few minutes of his recent return to Asheville attacking Music Row and the clean looks of today’s country stars.

But what Hank III made clear at his Orange Peel show on Tuesday is that he doesn’t think much of country music, either. Sure, he likes his dad’s and granddad’s songs, covering both of them (as well as a few songs by their fellow travelers), but when it comes to the grand stew country has bubbled into over the past 70 years, it seems that Hank III isn’t interested.

To paraphrase Waylon Jennings (the first significant Outlaw to die when he passed away last year), if Hank wouldn’t have done it that way, his grandson doesn’t want to hear it.

In a way, the three Hanks have a reverse-Oedipus complex: They all have adored themselves, their hard ways, their drinking and smoking and not caring, and have rejected the maternal side of country — think the Carter Family or the Dixie Chicks — because it’s too damn soft. And now that Nashville country has all but given up on male singers — those left seem to talk only of love — there’s no room for the male-dominated world of the Hanks and Outlaws and the rest.

Hank III understands this, and that’s why his show isn’t really a country show as much as a facile representation of what country music used to be, plus easy digs on the way Nashville is today. As expected, Hank III tore through every song he played Tuesday, giving hope for a day when men and their hungers will once again rule Music City — and then made his now-famous bait-and-switch, closing the night with 45 minutes of grueling punk-metal.

Would Hank Senior, now 50 years dead, have been proud? Yes, but that says more about Hank Williams than it does about Nashville. Nashville has mouths to feed, the next generation to nurture and Grammys to win. The Hanks just have the kind of bitterness that comes from any man who hates his mama, but wishes he could crawl back home to her all the same.

— Martin Johnson

More than a famous face

Most of the cover songs Hank Williams III and his band performed at the crowded Orange Peel on Oct. 7 were works by country’s defining pantheon: Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and the man who defined the sound — the gaunt-cheeked, gone-too-soon Hank Williams, whose voice and face are eerily replicated in his similarly fast-living grandson.

Without his name, though — without that legitimacy that comes from a direct genetic inheritance — could Hank III’s pitch-perfect twang and sterling repertoire still manage to draw such droves?

When the band returned, sans cowboy hats, for their second set of old-school punk covers (by now, even casual Hank III fans know about their hero’s early years in a thrash-metal band), the boot-scooters and saw-dust shufflers gave way to a mosh pit so energetic that the venue’s wooden floor began to bounce and heave.

And the set was just as solidly and professionally played as the country covers mere moments before. Where Williams’ voice was once clear and lonesome, it was now as powerfully abrasive as the group that inspired his band logo, the uneven black bars of punk forefathers Black Flag. There were even nods to some of the other legends of that nearly 20-years-dead scene, including The Misfits and GG Allin.

But the question remains: Would anyone care about this man’s music if he weren’t the direct descendant of you-know-who? If the night’s headline acts were, say, an outlaw-country-classics cover band and a Black Flag tribute group, would the place still be as packed?

Probably not — but with someone as competent as Hank Williams III to wave the banner of two slowly fading brands of music, there might always be reason for rockers and outlaws to mix under one roof.

— Steve Shanafelt

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