Gig Review: Hayseed Dixie / The Zipheads – KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton (18th May 2024)

It’s Saturday night in Wolverhampton and Hayseed Dixie are back in KK’s Steel Mill a year after their last show. But it wouldn’t matter what night of the week it is, I’d be there as would the entirety of the people assembled tonight. Because if you don’t like to hear some of the best-known rock and pop songs covered by four middle-aged men playing acoustic guitar and bass, five string banjo, and mandolin then you’re dead inside. Their self-styled rockgrass has endured and gained a cult following and probably one that’s healthier than your average Swifty (let’s be real, if Taylor Swift told her fans to drink the Kool-Aid, they would).

They’ve not even played their first note of the evening but The Zipheads have already won the crowd over. Under no illusions to their role as the opening band, the three-piece rockabilly act have already made a joke about it before diving head-first into a rabble-rousing set, leading with “Call of the Wild”. Except, it’s not just rockabilly. Sure, they look like they’ve stepped out of the 1950s but they play with the intensity of 70s punks, spit flying and energy dripping from them. Razor-sharp punk-fuelled chords bash heads with the double bass’ penetrating groove and cacophony of drums. There’s a cover of The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat”, introduced by introducing the crowd to a novel concept – taking one song and covering it in a completely different style. For a night like this, it’s a ballsy move but they make it work. As they combine swing and swagger, much like last year’s touring companions, The Hot Damn!, they’re sonically miles away from the headliners but they give it their all and don’t fail to entertain, ensuring you have as much fun on the floor as they do on the stage.

In no grand fashion, four men set up their instruments, vocalist/guitarist John Wheeler is kind enough to give a two-minute warning for people at the bar or the toilet and right at 9pm, Hayseed Dixie run us through a gauntlet of songs that we know and love in their own rockgrass fashion. By the time the chorus of opener “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” kicks in, I, along with many others, have a grin on my face. Hayseed Dixie aren’t a band that are going to change the world – that’s not their mission. But they do want you to have a good time and enjoy yourself. And in that regard, it’s mission accomplished, just like it is every time I go to see them.

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As they run through some stone-cold classics, there’s plenty of humour thrown in for good measure (and it wouldn’t be a Hayseed Dixie show without it). Whilst Wheeler doesn’t quite monologue tonight like he usually does, he still finds plenty of room for his dry observational wit – such as comparing and contrasting alcohol with religion. Likewise, mandolin player Hippy Joe Hymas continues his own brand of physical comedy as he contorts himself into some strange angles, his eyes wide, throwing plenty of middle fingers to the band and audience whilst finding time to acquaint himself with a bottle of Jura whisky.

There’s a new addition to the whole load of standards they play with “Elm Street Rock Café”, a song written in dedication to an independent venue in Oslo Norway which was torn down to make way for flats. A bit like Wheeler’s (and mine) beloved ABC in Glasgow – though that currently stands as an empty shell after the venue mysteriously went up in flames when the plans for the flats were knocked back. And whilst they may largely be a covers band, the point of the song hits hard, especially with what the Music Venue Trust are fighting for on a daily basis – if you don’t have independent and grassroots venues like KK’s, bands won’t get to graduate to the bigger venues.

Other originals are peppered throughout, and they’re welcomed just as warmly as the covers, such as “Kirby Hill”, “In the Backyard”, “Corn Liquor” and of course, “I’m Keeping Your Poop (In a Jar)”. As people sing and dance in the crowd, the band point out how bass is the most important instrument in a band (accept it) by pointing out some of the most recognisable bass lines such as “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Billie Jean”, “The Chain” and a handful of others. And Rich Collins leads the band for a banjo-driven instrumental piece and it’s not even “Duelling Banjos” (though they do play that, too).

The encore introduces a new song to the Hayseed Dixie repertoire with “YMCA” with a note of more new music to follow in due course. And for those wondering, yes, many people did perform the dance. They may not lean so heavily on the AC/DC of their nature these days, instead becoming a bluegrass karaoke band for a couple of hours but the couple of AC/DC songs which do feature go down incredibly well and feel rather apt now that Angus and co. are back out on the road.

There’s also a mention of the band giving 10% of their merch sales every night to The Zipheads and frankly, with their own set, they deserved it, something they did last year with The Hot Damn!. And like those four ladies, they now have their own humorous “Go buy some merch” song. And in fact, £23 (plus booking fee) is a steal to see Hayseed Dixie and continues to be one of the most fun nights out you can have. And when they’re back in the area, I’m willing to bet every person tonight will be a return customer because if loving Hayseed Dixie is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

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Hayseed Dixie: official | facebook | twitter | instagramyoutube

The Zipheads: official | facebook | twitter | instagram | youtube | bandcamp

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