There are a lot of people out there who are quite happy to go and see a band just the once. The same way they might not re-watch a series or read a favourite book a second time. And I'm alright with that but when a band I like swing back into town I'll try to go every time I can. As such on the 29th of March I went to see Hayseed Dixie for the fourth time at Glasgow's QMU. Despite being a bit of a laugh and having a good gimmick, there's a lot more to them than hillbilly banjo bullshit. They're a band with a good point to make and even for long term fans they still have a few surprises tucked up their dungarees.
The support act for the gig were the acoustic duo "Just Tom & Pete". Tom & Pete themselves are a waistcoat and flat cap affair but it was in the west end mind so nothing out of the ordinary there. On the face of it they would appear to be a similar act to Hayseed, a band mixing humorous original material with covers of pop and R&B songs re-worked into their own style. But they did offer something quite unique. As mentioned they are but two in number, with Tom on guitar and Pete on cajon. I did like that Pete had a couple of additions to his cajon (yes I'm pronouncing the J and you should too) in the way of a wee cymbal and a tambourine taped to the floor. I think it allowed for a much greater range over the course of the set because truthfully, even the best percussionist in the world can only get two sounds out of a cajon. Three if they punch a hole in the front of it but that only works once.
The Cambridgeshire duo let loose a few original tracks from their album "Can't Cut The Mustard". To me they write quite entertaining and interesting songs. There's one in particular I'm still singing along to in my head now named "Daddy Mustard". And the good thing about mentioning this track over "Sweet Ass Voice" or "Prodigal Falsetto" is that I get to type the words "Daddy Mustard" repeatedly. Try it yourself it's good fun. Daddy...Mustard. But it's a tune which deals with the loneliness of the long distance musician, while also referencing the fact that Tom managed to get Pete's wean to call him "Daddy Mustard". Make of that what you will I suppose. But it is a good piece, starting off with arpegiated chords in quite a tense progression, then making way for strummed playing under falsetto vocals nearer the end of the tune. Speaking of Tom's vocals, and I hope he doesn't mind the comparison, he has a bit of the Sheeran vibe about him (if he wouldn't insist on being an Englishman with an acoustic guitar I wouldn't have to say it). But what I mean is that he has a smooth voice, even up in the high register that he jumps to, and it fits well with the choppy guitar playing.
Even though they are clearly a modest band I would say their original material does indeed cut the mustard, but it was still their cover versions that seemed to get bigger crowd reactions. Not to say that as a bad thing of course, not at a Hayseed Dixie gig. In fact I'd congratulate them on making the covers sound like their original material. I genuinely feel that If I hadn't heard "Crazy In Love" or "Wannabe" before I might have accepted that Just Tom & Pete were the composers.
A good round of applause and a quick change over later it was time for the auld Hayseed. As a bit of a regular there were things I was expecting to hear. For example by the time they were four songs in they'd played two AC/DC tunes. Throughout the set they played more of their standards. "Ace Of Spades", " T.N.T" and "Bohemian Raspberry" all appearing. They did whip out some new covers that I hadn't heard before, personally I was fair buzzing when they played "Mrs Robinson" and "Africa" (Meme of the year 2k18 deal with it). This band really wrote the rule book on making a cover your own. To me it seems like each of the four members really put their personality into their instruments and their parts. Take Hippy Joe on the mandolin, his playing is a mad as he is. He just can't stay still, and since the good lord blessed him with a wireless lead system he's able to strut up and down the stage, shake his arse at the crowd and even jump down to the barrier to rip his mando a new one right in our faces. He's a very percussive player too, and as a band without a drummer a lot of the rhythm in Hayseed tunes comes from Joe hammering out muted chop chords. It's a great sound and for such a high energy band they need something in the mix to emulate a drummer.
They of course have their own original material, albeit less prominent in the set than their covers but I prefer a lot of their own tunes to some of their covers. They often talk about their song writing philosophy on stage. The philosophy being that there are only four types of songs worth playing. Songs about: killing, drinking, cheating and hell. One such killing song is "Laying In The Backyard". A mid tempo cautionary tale about a woman done with her mans abuse and she leaves him "laying in the back yard" with an extra hole in his head. However the original I always hope to hear is "Corn Liquor". A very energetic piece supposedly written from the point of view of the singers grandfather. By the sounds of things he was mean auld whisky swilling headcase and he did not give a shit about what anyone had to say about it. Along side the lyrics and fantastic four part harmonies there's a section in this song live I'm always impressed by. That part being the guitar solo. Even though you watch singer and guitarist/fiddler John Wheeler play very well all night, his solo in "Corn Liquor" is intense. It's played so frantically and with such precision. Even up in the higher register which is a lot more difficult on an acoustic with thicker strings than on a narrow necked electric.
They're still able to keep things fresh though, even the parts of the show that the regular fans were waiting on are tweaked and improvised on. It's a small thing but it stops the band falling into a repetitive rut. And repetitive ruts are no good. No one wants to see a repetitive rut. Repetitive ruts are bad news. If I ever fall into a repetitive rut, tell me. I hope I never fall into a repetitive rut. For instance there's a part of the show where oor John initiates a call and response with the crowd between songs. He'll typically start with "Gimme a yeah!" and he is indeed given a "Yeah!". This of course escalates into a "Fuck yeah!" etc until he'll cry "Coldplay rock!" which of course is met with rapturous jeers and boo's. A funny part of the show aye, but he's making a point here. Even asking the crowd to shout things in other languages they won't understand such as "Porco Dio" or "Perkele". Sometimes he'll continue on and if the crowd will shout back anything he shouts he'll ask "Gimme a Sieg Heil!" and if anyone does give him one the simple but poignant response from Wheeler is "See how fucking easy that was". And the first time I seen them I couldn't believe the amount of people who did. It was that easy, and that's no good. However, I think it helps me to prove that as well as well gigged and talented musicians they are very smart people. Sure they play the character of the dumb hillbillies to fit the gimmick but they use that to both highlight how damaging closed mindedness can be, as well as making you think about how you stereotype people yourself. After all is it so absurd to think that any given redneck banjo picker understands the world around them? Even though most of his patter is based around drinking booze and praise for John Cougar Mellencamp, he'll never be far from saying something topical, witty, and very intelligent. Usually about political current events but as he pointed out on stage there is no satire right now. It's impossible to make a witty wee joke about what's going on in the U.S.A and here because it's beyond a joke on it's own.
The set sped by in no time and after the traditional "Highway To Hell" and "Eternal Flame" closer the band were off. Not quite never to be seen again right enough, they made an almost immediate appearance at the merch stand. All four members. Signing shit, taking pictures, even answering daft questions about banjo strings (don't laugh). Aye, they seem like a good bunch of lads.
I used to wonder if Hayseed Dixie ever felt like they're a victim of their own success. Granted they aren't a huge band commercially but they are known as a but of a comedy covers band. Which to me is a bit unfair as I've made clear I'm a fan of the original stuff. But even regarding the covers they're usually passed off as funny or a bit of a gimmick without much thought being given to their skill as musicians and writers. I don't think it's a bad position to be in, firstly because the gimmick can only attract people it can't keep them. There still has to be substance and Hayseed Dixie have that in bucket loads. Look at Hayseed, Ghost and Gloryhammer compared to Hatebeak and Mac Sabbath for example. Secondly, all four band members had solo CDs for sale at the merch table. They have that option to release more original material if and when they want to. I get the impression that the path the band went down is ideal for them. Something that started out as a bluegrass AC/DC tribute album ending up in a packed QMU on a Friday night?
Sounds like a good deal to me.