Gig Review: Hayseed Dixie / The Hot Damn! – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (25th March 2023)

It’s been quite some time since I last saw Hayseed Dixie. Way back in 2018, to be precise, when they played what would become their final performance at Glasgow’s O2 ABC before it mysteriously caught fire after an application for student housing was knocked back. Thankfully, the band recorded this performance for posterity which you can find on your streaming platform of choice to hear that room again (and probably shed a tear or two if you loved it like I did). So, with the purveyors of rockgrass back out on the road with an excellent support band, it would have been morally wrong to leave it any longer. 

I can’t actually recall previous supports for Hayseed Dixie so they’ve either been terrible or so uninteresting my brain has wiped it. Thankfully, that’s not the case tonight. We’ve pretty much covered The Hot Damn! since their inception but this is the first time I’ve had the chance to catch them live. Admittedly, the self-styled “queens of colourful noise” and tonight’s headliners made for a strange pairing for half a second until you realise “Hang on, that actually works!” After bouncing onto their intro tape, it’s a whirlwind of colour, hooks, bright melodies, synchronised high kicks, relatable and witty lyrics, and most importantly – fun! It’s performed all through the lens of power pop; chuck Queen, Royal Republic, The Darkness, Blink-182, Pat Benatar and a handful of other solid influences and you have The Hot Damn!. 

Whilst there’s a touch of apprehension and confusion to begin with, the crowd quickly catches on to what they’re in for and as the set continues, they warm to it. There’s a handful of bright tie-dyed shirts in the crowd who know the words to the previously released singles (“Dance Around”, “I Didn’t Like You Anyway” and “Live Laugh Love”) and bounce enthusiastically to the rest of the songs (presumably to feature on their upcoming debut album). But with some of the band having toured together for years in various guises, a solid 18 months constantly on the road up to this point as The Hot Damn! and tonight being the last night of the tour, it’s no surprise they’re ridiculously tight. 

With guitar and vocals from Gill Montgomery and guitar from Laurie Buchanan (as well as backing vocals), the pair easily trade licks between each other with ease like the best of them like Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, Slash and Izzy Stradlin or The Darkness’ Hawkins brothers. Meanwhile, furious basslines rumble from Lzi Hayes (also on backing vocals), adding grit and grunt to the sugary sweet blend of rock and pop. Te backing vocals and harmonies from Buchanan and Hayes brings an extra level of depth and sophistication, evoking hints of Queen. And at the back, viciously hammering her drum kit Danny Dolan-style, Josie O’Toole may as well be on the frontline with the six and four stringers. Precise and polished, like her bandmates, their individual talents are a reflection of the unit’s raison d’etre – put on a great show whilst having as much fun as possible.  

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As the drum kit is dismantled, tonight’s headliners do a last-minute soundcheck themselves before launching straight into a two hour set. Indeed, there’s no airs and graces or pretence of pissing off before coming back on. So as acoustic guitar and bass, mandolin and banjo coalesce for the night, Hayseed Dixie treat us to a rip-roaring evening as only they can. Treating us to all the best singalong numbers in their own bluegrass style, it’s why they’re their own entity and not confined to one neat little genre box.  

And going by their banter (most of which comes from guitarist and vocalist, John Wheeler), that’s not what they’re aiming for. Even if they do have a rock sensibility to them, they’re so much more. It’s shown by the number of different subcultures in the room, between the rockers, the metalheads, the country fans, the odd punk (in fairness, Hayseed Dixie are punk as fuck) as well as various others. But all of them were united in one thing – out for a good night. Which Hayseed Dixie always deliver. Wheeler mentions a couple of times that they know their station – they’re a cult band with a couple of specialist instruments (banjo and mandolin for those unsure). Which informs tonight’s setlist, picking only a couple of numbers from more recent albums, it’s a set mainly dedicated to all those great rock songs by all those great rock bands. 

Even if they did go down the Clutch route of playing a different set each night, you’d likely still have to hit at least half a dozen shows to hear all those different interpretations of iconic songs. And that’s before you even get into their own bevvy of original material. So if you wanted AC/DC, you got it. Black Sabbath? Sure. Motörhead? Done. That Survivor song? Absolutely. That song that no-one knew before a Saturday Night Live sketch? All that was missing was the cowbell. But there’s also some great stuff slotted in amongst it like “Kirby Hill”, “Poop in a Jar” and “Corn Liquor”. And of course, you couldn’t not come to a gig like this and not hear “Duelling Banjos”. It would be sacrilege.  

There’s plenty of amusement to be had throughout as Wheeler explains the story behind “Lady of the Bog”, joking about looking inward for lyrical inspiration. And it’s part of the fun of going to see Hayseed Dixie – the banter the four have on stage as well as Weeler’s various comedic addresses to the audience. With the right blend of dryness, bitterness, self-awareness whilst holding the mirror up to society, and even the occasional picking of low-hanging fruit, if you’re not laughing at least once during one of the sermons, you likely have no sense of humour. Meanwhile, Joe Hymas on mandolin goes for the more physical side, wild-eyed and ensuring that unless you’ve got your eyes glued to him, you’ll likely miss something from him.  

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The band also demonstrate how they work without and drummer. And as they break it down, it shows, it truly does work and lays bare how good each of them are on their instruments to ensure the delicate balance stays, well… balanced. In keeping with the sense of fun and camaraderie which has been present all night and it would seem, the entire tour, The Hot Damn! make their final appearance of the night during the final song, bringing their dancing shoes before they work themselves through a fast-paced rendition of the macarena. And just like their support slot, they smash that, too. 

Why I’ve left it this long since the last time I saw Hayseed Dixie, I’m not sure (although there’s a reason for two of those years). With that in mind, I won’t be leaving that long until the next time. Because even if they just came out and played two hours of the worst music recorded, they’d still make it fun. Sure, rockgrass may make them a cult band… but if being part of the Hayseed Dixie cult is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.  

Hayseed Dixie: official | facebook | twitter | instagramyoutube

The Hot Damn!: officialfacebook | twitter | instagram | spotify | bandcamp | youtube | bigcartel

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