Not only is it the weekend, it’s a bank holiday weekend. It’s also pay-day weekend, and there’s only one band to provide the soundtrack for the impending chaos – Hayseed Dixie. Tonight’s gig took place in the band’s “favourite venue in the world” (as declared on the official Hayseed Dixie facebook page). The same venue that I saw Dolph Lundgren in Masters Of The Universe when it was a multiplex!
Taking to the stage in front of a paltry amount of people made no difference to French power trio Datcha Mandala. One they plugged in, they could’ve been playing in front of a full room for all they cared. It’s been a long time since I caught a live band that looked so joyous at being on stage in front of an audience totally unfamiliar with them. Singer and bassist extraordinaire, Nicolas Sauvey, is a whirlwind as he spins around the stage during the short set. Even when he’s singing, he’s restless, never restricted by having to stand still in front of the mic stand. He ends the set on his knees, singing and battering the hell out of his bass, as the mic stand gets lower and lower with every passing second. His compadre on guitar, Jeremy Saigne, is even more animated. He’s everywhere… on top of the monitors, on top of the drum kit. It’s dizzying watching the fella. They can play as well. A heavy, expansive mix of blues and psychedelic rock that goes down well with those that chose to bypass the bar. Sauvey has a fairly unique voice. Think of a young Geddy Lee during Rush’s formative years, and you won’t be too far off the mark. Very accomplished on the four strings, he also gets full marks for whipping out a harmonica on the stunning ‘Mojoy’. I loved it when he used the harmonica on the bass like a six stringer would use a bottleneck for some slide guitar action. What an incredible noise. Special mention must go to Romain Arnault, who was called into action when the band’s drummer fractured his wrist, ruling him out of the tour. Two weeks to learn the songs? Nailed it! Datcha Mandala have opened for acts such as Blues Pills and The Temperance Movement. Throw in some Zeppelin influences, and you have a starting point for what they sound like. I look forward to catching these guys again, that’s for sure.
How can you not like a band that clears the drum riser, places down two hollowed out monitors and then puts two beer buckets inside? A Hayseed Dixie gig isn’t like any other gig though, it’s a congregation, a celebration of songs about “drinking, cheating, killing and hell”. Check your inhibitions at the door, and get a drink in your hand. Prepare to get wet as drinks are thrown in the air, and prepare to feel sorry for the guy who’s rather worse for the wear, getting carried out by his mates. It’s going to take more than a fry-up to cure that hangover in the morning! It’s all about having fun at a Hayseed Dixie gig. Where else can you hear Motörhead and Black Sabbath mixed with Michael Jackson and The Bangles… all played on the banjo…?
It was, of course, “A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC” that introduced Hayseed Dixie to the world in 2001, and “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” opens the show in readiness for their headlining set, just 48 hours later, at this years Bon Fest in Kirriemuir, Bon Scott’s birthplace. Barley Scotch aka John Wheeler is in fine fettle as he launches into his sermon about how they realised so many years ago that “the “Lost Highway” of Hank Williams and the “Highway To Hell” of AC/DC were the same damned road”. Necking “white trash” prosecco from a paper cup, he is on good form as he tells the tale of how even after 17 years, his mother still tells him “It’s not too late to go back to school to be a lawyer…“. Cue a hilarious rant about lawyers. “Any lawyers in the audience? Go get a better job… deliver meals to old people, plant flowers by the road… anything.” The more alcohol that gets consumed, the more boisterous the crowd gets. The banjo intro to “Ace Of Spades” sets off a pit, well maybe ‘pit’ is the wrong description. How about a violent barn dance? There are four ladies enjoying a good old hoedown together, when some dude breaks the cardinal rule of never trying to split up ladies dancing. They don’t even speak to him, they just ignore him, rendering him impotent, as he does the walk of shame back to his baying mates. Dude, c’mon man, that’s one thats been handed down generation to generation!
All joking aside, Hayseed Dixie are accomplished players, the standard on display throughout the 90 minute set is staggering. Not only a master of the guitar and possessor of a fine voice, Wheeler also plays a mean fiddle. Banjo player Tim Carter, and bassist Jake Byers, could turn a wake into a raucous party, while mandolin player Joe Hymashy would probably miss the party as his probation was refused… again. His jokey persona on stage might be a mix of a park bench tramp and a BBC DJ from the 80’s, but behind the hairy façade, there is indeed an incredible musician, best highlighted during the intro to ‘Duelling Banjos’, where Wheeler snaps a string on his guitar. After uttering “Motherfucker“, he tells the other three to “play something” as he re-strings and re-tunes the guitar. Without missing a beat, the three other members launch into an almighty jam that starts up the pit/violent barn dance again. Hymashy’s fingers are a blur as they fly across the strings during an incredible impromptu few moments. He also gets cries of laughter as he tries to play the mandolin with a wine bottle. Throughout Glasgow, dogs were howling in agony!
The latest album, ‘Free Your Mind And Your Grass Will Follow’ is a protest album of sorts. Wheeler shines on ‘Ain’t No Country Big Enough’, which allows him to get serious for a few moments. Travelling the world for 17 years, and meeting people from different races and backgrounds, has brought him experiences that so many of his countrymen will never have. Currently residing in Cambridge “for now, but we’ll see how that goes…“, Wheeler has an incredible way with his words, and the song has many thought-provoking and relevant lyrics. Do check it out for another aspect to the Hayseed Dixie sound.
The party came to an end in the same way that it started, with AC/DC. What else but ‘Highway To Hell’ could finish such a joyous evening? If you can go to a Hayseed Dixie gig and come away without a massive smile on your face, then you need to check your pulse. Either that, or you are a lawyer!
Hayseed Dixie are on tour throughout May, finishing off in Yorkshire on the 12th. They then head over to mainland Europe for more shows.
Review: Dave Stott
Images: Dave Jamieson