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Hayseed Dixie + The Zipheads

Tuesday 14th May 2024

Concorde 2, Brighton

I've lucked out a bit with gigs on occasional work visits to Brighton of late... a 'right-time, right-place' introduction to the superb Greek Psych rockers Naxatras and a long awaited reacquaintance with Rick Wakeman (where I finally saw JTTCOTE performed live) amongst them... so I was overjoyed when performing my habitual pre-trip gig listings skim to see that Hayseed Dixie were in town.

But first... The Zipheads, a trio playing out of St. Albans featuring Ray Waters (guitar, lead vocals), Will Bennett (drums, vocals) and Kiwi import Dick Dynamite (double bass, vocals). After setting a tone with opener 'Call of the Wild', I settled back for a set of upbeat and enjoyable Rockabilly stylings ...which, for a three-piece with an upright bass I thought I was perfectly entitled to do. Wrong. My gig buddy for the night mentioned 'Chuck Berry meets The Zutons' which wasn't a bad shout, but even this is a bit streamlined for a set that, whilst always with at least a hint of Rockabilly underneath, jumped all over the place style-wise with sections or whole songs of ska ('A Matter of Time'), Reggae, Rock (new single 'How Do You Like Me Now')... even a cover of The Damned's 'Neat Neat Neat' for God's sake. (Note to self: books and covers...). Causing the bar to empty into the hall pretty much from the get-go, they powered through their 40 or so minute set with total energy and excellent inter-track banter, generously prepping the crowd for the headline act, who they were clearly enjoying touring with. Definitely recommend catching them when you can.

I first became aware of Hayseed Dixie 15+ years ago when, my musical tastes somewhat known to work colleagues, I received a copy of (debut album) 'A Hillbilly Tribute to AC/DC' in a Secret Santa. Popped the disk in when I got home and listened in slack-jawed silence until about 'Hell's Bells' when I kind of got it... not a piss-take, not a joke... but a genuine, appreciative tribute. Yet, whilst paying serious homage, you could almost hear tongues being firmly planted in cheeks.

Skip forward a decade and a half, and they are now fifteen albums in, and whilst the phonetically familiar name (and, arguably what they are primarily known for) remains, the days when they were just an AC/DC covers band are long behind them... the range of artists from which covers are drawn and given a ‘Rockgrass’ makeover has expanded enormously, and furthermore been augmented by a decent body of original material. Tonight's show was split about 60/40 covers/originals.

A bit of a departure from my normal gig fare... when I veer out of my autopilot Prog lane, it is normally towards artists broadly categorised as Blues Rock or Southern Rock I guess, but the most South I've gone is Skynyrd, the two Molly's (Skinny and Hatchet), that sort of thing (yeah; I know... technically, that's more South than traditional Bluegrass territory, but you know what I mean) ..so a pure Bluegrass sound - no drums, all acoustic instruments - could have felt... well, a little empty. Not a bit of it.

When there's no tub-thumper keeping time and filling gaps, and no pedals or keyboards creating enhanced noises, you are down to just your arrangements, instrumentation and stagecraft... and Hayseed Dixie whack it well out of the park on all three counts. Led by John Wheeler (guitar, lead vocal, raconteur and philosopher), the entire band (at least 50% of which was fuelled by regular wine/whiskey top-ups) played like fury for the entire set... who knew that 23 strings and 4 voices could make such a full and complete sound ?

The dungaree-clad Hippy Joe Hymas snarled, smirked and generally goofed around whilst flying through Angus-like solos on Mandolin and even found time to take a mic-stand induced tumble and have a wander through the crowd as well as executing his desk-bell duties with panache. Along with possessing possibly the most wildlife-friendly beard I have ever seen, Jake "Bakesnake" Byers held down the bottom end with an acoustic bass in a way I would not have thought possible... the groove on 'Cheap Sunglasses' in particular was compelling. And the (surprisingly English) Richard Collins (winner of the UK banjo championship three years in succession, I've since discovered) managed to find enough space between Wheeler and Hymas to shine, particularly on the Appalachian favourite 'Duelling Banjos'. Though I'm pleased to report that at no time did anyone squeal like a pig.

The covers, containing just a smattering of AC/DC tracks, were varied and inventive... possibly the moodiest version of 'Paranoid' imaginable, and an 'Ace of Spades' that could well have been faster than Lemmy and the boys. A couple (I think 'War Pigs' amongst them) were so disguised you didn't know it was coming until the vocal came in.

Favourite original of the night for me was 'Elm Street Rock Cafe', a raucous tribute to a now concreted over gig venue in Oslo, though it has to be said Wheeler's solo in 'Corn Liquor' was just superb. Sadly, no place for the thoughtful and delicate ballad 'I'm Keeping Your Poop' in my top-tracks-of-the-night list, but worthy of a shout-out for the title alone.

Odd takeaway of the night: I'm with Meghan Trainor in that I'm usually all about that bass (I'm sorry...I can't believe I said that... NURSE, CAN YOU BRING MY PILLS PLEASE ?). My 'favourite bass players' list is reasonably eclectic (topped, of course, by Geddy) but I never thought I'd spend such a thoroughly joyous gig without an electric bass in sight... and not really notice until afterwards... so many thanks to both Jake and Dick for broadening my horizons.

Overall, the eclecticism of the music choices, all put through the Hayseed-a-tron, meant nothing less than the most enjoyable night out I've had for ages. And that's even before you get around to the enjoyment of Wheeler's philosophical monologues and the general surrealism of some of the evening: a crowd singalong of 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina'... a harmonised song advising of the whereabouts of the merch stand... encoring and encouraging participation with 'YMCA'.

Nuts. But in the best way possible.

Hallelujah indeed.

Mark C.


Setlist (possibly not complete... or correct ...don't blame me; there was a lot going on)

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Kirby Hill

Hells Bells

Drinking Again

Paranoid / Eye of the Tiger / Pumped Up Kicks

Don’t Stop Believing

Cheap Sunglasses

Elm Street Rock Cafe

In the Backyard

Ace of Spades

Fat Bottomed Girls

A Jug of Whiskey (Drunken Sailor Revisited)

Walk this Way

Instrumental

War Pigs

Merch song

Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms

I'm Keeping Your Poop

Corn Liquor

Duelling Banjos

Holy Diver


Encore

YMCA (yes, really)

Highway to Hell …with snippets of

Georgia on my Mind

Freebird

Tiny Dancer

I Saw The Light

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