Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Live Review - Hayseed Dixie - Concorde 2

Popular music is littered with musicians who have carved out a career interpreting other people’s songs. Louis Walsh may grandly describe the process as “making it your own” but the likes of Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and Michael Buble churn out whole albums of turgid MOR muzak as the “credible” face of cover music.

It’s a fine line between tribute and parody but far more interesting are the likes of “Weird” Al Yankovic or  Richard Cheese who have taken popular songs and either completely transformed them or injected some much needed levity.

Hayseed Dixie follow this fine tradition. Starting off as AC/DC tribute act and they have since branched out to cover everyone from Outkast to Cliff Richard all in an accelerated bluegrass style which they dub “rockgrass”.

Fifteen years on and dozen albums later they are still ploughing their unique furrow to increased returns. Tonight’s show is a sell out which front man John Wheeler attributes to

“The power of Jools”

and their recent profile boosting appearance on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny.

In the flesh the band is a force of nature. There may be no drums but the four piece produce one hell of a racket. On mandolin Hippy Joe Hymas is shirtless wearing just a pair of  patched dungarees.  He spends the entire gig clowning around the stage and gurning at the audience, sticking out his tongue like a rabid hillbilly Gene Simmons.

Wheeler sets his redneck stall out early with a dig at Obama sounding like Martin Luther King.

 “We are here to testify! We play songs about drinking, cheating, killing and hell!”

Their hillbilly personas are all very post modern and tongue-in-cheek as Wheeler may present himself as backwater hick but he is degree educated philosopher and polyglot. Hayseed Dixie could best summarised as an incredibly accomplished group of musicians masquerading as a bunch of slack-jawed yokels.

They start appropriately at the beginning with a violin backed You Shook Me All Night Long from their first album of AC/DC covers. It sets the tempo for the evening; virtuoso musicianship, super fast tempo and lots of messing about.

The intro to Edwin Starr’s War then segues into Black Sabbath’s War Pigs with John Butten unleashing a 110mph toe tapping banjo fury upon he audience.

We then are hit with an 80’s power ballad double whammy.  A bewilderingly intricate Eye of the Tiger

“We were in Germany and we heard this 6 times on the radio in half an hour”

and a 100mph version Don't Stop Believing where we are given blistering banjo master class by Johnny Butten.

Hayseed Dixie aren’t just master interpreters, they have a few originals of their own to throw into the mix and it’s testament to their song writing ability that the audience doesn’t nod off at this point. Tolerance is a “Love song to the hangover ” which includes some fine harmonies,

Keeping Your Poop In A Jar we are told is their biggest PRS earner and clever way to remind yourself not to re date your ex whilst the bluesy In The Backyard gets the audience swearing in a variety of foreign languages.

Not everything is peachy though. The band tries its hand at Motorhead’s Ace of Spades. Lemmy would be impressed with the speed of playing but perhaps not of the overall outcome. It doesn’t work as well as their other interpretations.

In honour of the “Best singer that ever existed” we get a raggedy toe tapping version of Bohemian Rhapsody complete with four part harmonies and banjo breakdown. It is almost as good as the original.

After the obligatory version of Duelling Banjos we have the encore and Hotel California segueing into Careless Whisper. It’s a genius combination but traditional bluegrass fans would be aghast.

One particularly harsh reviewer in the Irish Times pointed out that Hayseed Dixie

“offers little other than base entertainment at the expense of bluegrass's credibility

I would say critics are kind of missing the point. As Wheeler points out:

 “Bluegrass never had any credibility...it’s hillbilly music from East Tennessee....If we had gravitas we’d be Coldplay”

A bluegrass Coldplay?  The world has enough problems on its plate right now.