The number three in Hank III‘s name obviously refers to his pedigree — he is third in the Hank Williams lineage. But at his concerts, the number also represents the three distinct sets Hank typically plays: traditional country, a metal-country hybrid he calls “hellbilly” and straight-up punk-metal with his band Assjack.

On Sunday night at the 9:30 club, though, he added a doom metal tribute in the middle of his hellbilly set. After mumbling something about getting “a couple of friends out here for you,” he returned to stage (shirtless, and wearing an animal skull mask) with Dave Sherman of the Maryland bands Earthride and Spirit Caravan. After two Earthride covers (“Something Wicked” and “Fighting the Devils Inside of You”), the group paid tribute to doom metal pioneers Pentagram with “Be Forewarned” and “Forever My Queen.” A surprise, to be sure, but even more astonishing was how slow it felt compared to the high-energy, high-velocity music that made up the rest of the night.

The night began, of course, with traditional country, although Hank’s version is traditional in instrumentation alone. The subject matter is all drinking, drugs and sex (sample lyrics from the night’s first four songs, in order: “I’m headin’ straight to hell, so you just better get me one more round”; “I been thrown out of every damn bar in this old town”; “Gettin’ drunk and fallin’ down has taken its toll on me”; and “I’m drinkin’, druggin’, and havin’ lots of fun”). He may have intended these as cautionary tales, but the audience’s raised beer bottles, pumping fists and shouting along gave the tunes a different tone.

With nearly 30 songs in 90 minutes, Hank covered a lot of ground, from tributes to his grandfather’s final song (“I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive”) and Wayne Hancock‘s “Double A Daddy” to two straight-up instrumentals. Even Hank’s own material spanned several styles, from the waltz of “Not Everybody Likes Us” to the nearly punk-sounding “Tore Up & Loud.”

The common theme was Hank’s rebel attitude, both in his crass lyrics (Assjack singer Gary Lindsey came out to shout “I’m drunk! You’re stoned! Let’s [expletive]! ‘Til dawn!” during “Rebel Within”) and in his song’s themes, such as “the Grand Ole Opry Ain’t So Grand,” which rails against his grandfather’s exclusion from the venue.

After so much rebellion, the jump to hellbilly wasn’t so large; after all, punk and traditional country have very similar outlaw/outsider spirits. And while it was unusual to see a hardcore set performed with traditional country instruments (upright bass, fiddle, banjo and slide guitar), Hank’s wailing electric guitar — ornamented with a Misfits skull — and Lindsey’s shouted vocals certainly tied them all together.

From hellbilly, the transition to Hank’s metal project Assjack (with a typical two guitars/electric bass/drums setup) was not only logical but almost necessary; it just made sense to see his thunderous metal extreme after seeing the hybrid in the middle. Lindsey was an energetic frontman — screaming, getting tangled in his mic cord, stage-diving — while Hank stayed farther back, his wiry frame hunched over his guitar as he spun his long hair in circles. And as if all that weren’t enough entertainment for the night, once the Assjack set was officially finished and Lindsey left the stage, Hank and the band covered yet another doom metal tune, Pagan Altar‘s “Judgment of the Dead.”

Early in the night, Hank pledged to “put on the longest show for the cheapest ticket price in the music business.” For the low ticket price of $20, he and his backing musicians delivered 3 hours and 15 minutes of continuous music, with only one five-minute break in the middle, racking up some 50ish songs. And what’s more, there was no fading of energy during the night. The Assjack set was fueled by perhaps even more fire and passion than even the country set, thanks in no small part to Lindsey, whose growling, gravelly vocals provided an intriguing foil to Hank’s more nasally croon.

If nothing else, Hank’s shapeshifting sets showed not only his versatility as a musician and singer but also the breadth of his musical interests and knowledge; there’s probably not another country artist around who could even name three doom metal bands, much less cover their songs in concert.

There is one thing that’s certain about Hank III: The dude has stamina, for sure. The same couldn’t be said for the audience, though. The crowd gradually thinned with each change in style, leaving behind a modest core of metal enthusiasts once the old-school country fans had fled for quieter pastures.

Written by Express contributor Catherine Lewis
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