Hank Williams III

The defiant grandson of a country legend mixes elements of country, punk and metal. Nashville is not amused

Hank Williams III’s gig at the Limelight in Belfast is anything but commonplace. Grandson of arguably the most important country singer of the 20th century, Nashville legend Hank Williams, and son of southern rock superstar Hank Williams Jr, Williams has quite a legacy to live up to.

While he could have easily cashed in on his forefathers’ success, the man has instead chosen a path that is thoroughly unique. Shunning the modern country scene (which he sees as fake, rhinestone heavy and reliant on tired clichés), Williams incorporates elements of punk and metal into his live show, as well as more traditional influences.

The gig kicks off with the devilish 'Hellbilly', as Williams bounding on stage alongside his five-piece band. Accompanied by fiddle, double bass, banjo, pedal steel and drums, he rattles through seminal tracks such as ‘Long Hauls and Close Calls’ at a frenetic pace. He crams a lot into the whopping three hour set.

Williams' resemblance to his grandfather is remarkable. There are vocal similarities too. Although he performs a dramatically different brand of country music, Williams can hold a note just like his grandfather. The hairs on Belfast's collective neck stood on end at the trailing finish to the haunting ‘Three Shades of Black’.

Frantic bluegrass instrumentals are juxtaposed with slower tracks, such as hit single ‘Country Heroes’, and both the band and the audience become increasingly rowdy. A foul-mouthed homage to punk legend GG Allin is thrown into the mix as Williams belts out a rootin’ tootin’ cover of ‘Punch, Fight, F**k’. It is an hour and 20 minutes into the show the singer warns the audience that things are about to get noisier still.

Swapping his acoustic guitar for a heavily distorted Gibson electric (bearing the grinning skull Misfits logo), Williams is determined to ‘put the d**k back in Dixie’. He then launches into a curse-heavy track in which he rails against the modern Nashville scene.

It is impossible to know what his grandfather would have thought of this type of music and behaviour. One thing is certain: the rebellious fire of his elders burns bright in Williams III.

The tempo and the heat rise as Williams regales us with tales of depression, death and addiction. In a set this long, inevitably few tracks don’t quite hit the mark. On the whole, however, Williams' set is much more killer than filler.

The audience is taken aback, however, as the night takes an unexpected doom metal turn, with Williams cranking out crushingly heavy riffs as apocalyptic images are projected on a backdrop. Most (if not all) of the older members of the audience, however, stick around for this last section of the show, which one would swear was performed by a different band altogether.

Although Williams showcases some extreme vocal dexterity – not to mention accomplished metal riffing as sludge-filled as a Mississippi swamp – the final section, when compared to the fiery energy displayed previously, leaves this reviewer a little cold. 

Detractors would argue that Williams' music isn’t country in the traditional sense, but such statements seem redundant after this whirlwind of a show. Williams stays behind after the performance to sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans, proving that southern hospitality is alive and well.