If you’ve read my review of Hayseed Dixie’s album ‘Hair Down to my Grass’ then some of what I’m about to say may come as no surprise.
From the opening riffs of Hells Bells to the final chords of Comfortably Numb this was a concert that oozed energy and enthusiasm from both the band and the audience alike. It was a cold Wednesday in January and so the turnout may not have been expected to be as much as it was, but despite it being a small venue, it was packed.
The opening songs of ‘Hells Bells’, ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ and ‘War Pigs’ were expectedly loud, fast and heavy, and in between songs, John Wheeler, the lead singer, used the time to grab a drink. While the rest of the band were also doing so, he made a comedic ‘preach’ with accompanying Coldplay diss which the crowd seemed to love. Apparently trying to be sophisticated by drinking Prosecco, following one of his drink breaks John broke out into an a-capella version of Edwin Starr’s song ‘War’ which the audience also happily joined in with.
Following ‘War’ Hayseed Dixie commenced their next song, War Pigs. This song made full use of a bass drum, creating a heavier sound than the last song along with the band members harmonizing their vocal towards the end. Between this and the next song was another speech informing the crowd they had spent the past 3 weeks at the top of the UK country chart with their latest album, they described how they don’t necessarily see themselves as ‘country’ but are happy to be above “Garth Bucks” and “Lady Anti-Music”.
After the crowd had calmed, ‘Eye of the Tiger’ was the next song to be performed, and then ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, the latter of which the crowd loved and joined in with from the first word to the last. Next on the itinerary was ‘Laying In the Back Yard’, a Hayseed Dixie original, quite a traditional sounding song with a modern twist on the vocals. There was again much audience participation, particularly when the lead singer channelled Freddie Mercury and had the audience echoing his vocal rollercoasters. Before the audience were given a chance to calm down, in came the intro to ‘Ace of Spades’ which I honestly didn’t recognise at first with it being so different to the original, but picked it up as soon as the vocals came in.
They then announced they would play a traditional Austrian drinking song, which was a purely instrumental tune that went something like Offenbach’s Can Can or the William Tell Overture, then after another speech about the next song being one of the “greatest killing songs ever” they broke out into ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. This was played in quite a quick-paced, theatrical style and was very well performed; to me, it was one of the best ones of the night. Towards the end of the song, they broke off into ‘Let’s Get it On’ by Marvin Gaye so it went all slow and soulful for a bit… and then back into the end of Bohemian Rhapsody which was very well done.
During another drink break, John gave a small speech about ways that the USA and UK are different, having very high praise for the NHS and finishing with “you don’t know how good you have it until it’s gone”, which as an employee of the NHS it was nice to see and hear. After this was another original called ‘Skinny When I Met Her’, which had quite crass lyrics but was humorous and the crowd enjoyed it. It was fittingly followed by ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, being a-capella before the rest of the band kicked in. Continuing with the originals, ‘Poop In A Jar’ seemed to be about an ex, while ‘Moonshiner’s Daughter’, was a bit repetitive lyrically but ultimately a good song.
It was at this point that one of my favourite originals of Hayseed Dixie’s, the ‘Merch Table song’, came in, where they basically sung about the merchandise available on the table in the corner, I at first thought this was an improv but later after a bit of Googling found they had sung it before in the past customising it slightly for each venue. This song also included a duelling banjos section which was actually duelling banjo & guitar but was very well done and the crowd seemed to love it also. Their standard set ended on the anthemic ‘Highway To Hell’, one of their most well-known tracks.
With no messing around, the band quickly returned to the stage for the encore, which was initiated with a cut-and-paste mash-up of songs including ‘Careless Whisper’, ‘Hotel California’, ‘Baby One More Time’, ‘Eternal Flame’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and several others. This was very well done and if it was improv’d live on stage or even just discussed earlier in the day then it was wonderful and shows how tight the band is. After this was a reprise back into ‘Hotel California’ but with a mild reggae feel under the Rockgrass style, this didn’t last long enough for me but what they did play in this style I thoroughly enjoyed.
The finale of the show was their usual rendition of ‘Comfortably Numb’. Had you read my review of the album, my views are pretty clear about this song. The original I hold in very high regard for a number of reasons and Hayseed Dixie, for me, butcher this song completely. I didn’t like hearing this being played… I can say I appreciate the vocals are good, they are nice and clear and not raspy, but it’s the instruments that I don’t like, that and the fact they may feel they have creative licensing to do what they want with this song.
As for the venue, they made the place seem bigger than it was at times and more intimate than it was at others, the lighting was well done for a show but not for photographs of the band (very bright backlighting that flickered and changed a lot). Too, despite them having only a small stage with quite rigid mic placement they managed to make the best use of it than they could, and I was impressed by their stage presence. I would have no reservations about recommending you go and see them live if they’re in or around your town any time soon, or if they’re playing a festival you’re attending. http://www.hayseed-dixie.com/Tour.html