Starting life as a band best known for their individual ‘Rockgrass’ take on AC/DC’s back catalogue, Hayseed Dixie have come a long way, their shows filled with the manic energy they’ve always had but with an ever-widening set of covers alongside their own, sterling self-penned songs.
Hayseed Dixie – The Apex
Bury St Edmunds – 27 February 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Matt Bradford
Led as always by the pivotal presence of John’ Barley Scotch’ Wheeler, the quartet are an always entertaining prospect, the tongue-in-cheek humour and riotous attitude backed by musicianship that is never less than jaw-dropping. It’s truly their secret weapon, and whilst the focus might be on their own individual take on a variety of rock classics, they have the skills to dazzle with their playing that few can match.
With no big fanfare, the four walk onto the bare stage, stand behind their microphones, take a breath and rip into AC/DC’s leering Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap), their heady mix of rock and bluegrass hitting like a first slug of Moonshine.
Feral numbers like Kirby Hill and the raucous Drinking Again show their more traditional side, the dirt under their fingernails and the smell of whisky and pine virtually ingrained in each note. The wooden panelling of the venue suddenly changed into a cross between the Grand Ole Opry and the Tennessee backwoods.
Perversely, Sabbath’s Paranoid is turned into something elegiac and a thing of beauty, but it’s back to the madness with Eye Of The Tiger and a singalong Don’t Stop Believing, the latter featuring Hippy Joe Hymas’s dexterous mandolin aping of Neal Schon’s guitar work and an impressive banjo solo by Johnny Butten.
More fun was had by injecting a few bars of Stray Cat Strut into 16 Tons, with Ace Of Spades providing a rocket-fuelled rockgrass maelstrom and Wheeler encouraging everyone to stream self-penned ode to his wife, Lady Of The Bog, as a family joke.
Masters of their craft, it’s impossible not to smile at the onstage antics and banter, Hymas pulling faces as regularly as he was pulling on a bottle of bourbon, their carefully created personas larger than life. Scratch a little below the surface, and you’ll see the four musicians create arrangements that seamlessly transpose these huge rock classics to a different genre altogether but one that works with pinpoint accuracy.
Don’t Fear the Reaper is as fine example of this as anything, Jake ‘Bakesnake’ Byers uses his bass to additionally capture the spirit of the legendary cowbell, and he then goes on to provide a medley of defining bass lines from classic songs, laughter greeting every realisation.
Break-up ballad I’m Keeping Your Poop In A Jar still sounds as fresh and funny as when it was first minted, and Corn Liquor is touchingly dedicated to Wheeler’s grandfather before they close with a breath-taking display of their skills on Dualling Banjos.
Barely leaving the stage for the encore, Highway To Hell had passages of Freebird, and Tiny Dancer slotted seamlessly into its heavy-duty riffing and with a walkabout through the audience by Hymas during the Gospel-infused I Saw The Light, it was goodnight one and all.
Still the best out there, Hayseed Dixie are the Kings of Rockgrass ‘n’ Roll, and for that, we salute them.