Halloween with Hancock

Wayne Hancock

Schuba's - Chicago

October 31, 2003

First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12

Written by T.J. Simon


To a certain extent, itís always Halloween at the rockabilly shows in Chicago. The stores just donít have enough Bryl Cream to meet the demands of the retro greasers, swing dancers, and pompadour crowd when a national touring rockabilly act passes through town. The roots rock weirdoes (a term coined by Robbie Fulks) were out in full force to see Texas honky-tonker Wayne "The Train" Hancock perform a Halloween show at Schubaís Tavern in support of his new live album Swing Time. Because Hancockís brand of rockabilly is light on the rock and heavy on the íbilly, Chicagoís sub-sub-culture of cowboy hat-wearing music fans rubbed elbows with the sideburns and hot-rod tattoo constituency who are a staple at such shows.

The influence of Hank Williams, Sr. on both Hancockís songwriting and vocal style pervaded every moment of his live performance, so it was appropriate that he opened his set with a cover of Your Cheatiní Heart. This was followed by a string of Hancockís own compositions including Thunderstorms and Neon Signs, Flatland Boogie, and Hey Johnny Law as he led his four-piece band on an acoustic guitar played with long arm swipes that established the shuffling rhythm of his signature sound. The lack of a drummer didnít hinder the swing dancersí abilities to toss each other around the tavernís crowded floor to Hancock originals as well as covers of Route 66, Blue Suede Shoes, and Milk Cow Blues. He also paid tribute to the late Johnny Cash with a raucous rendition of Folsom Prison Blues, and when the lights came on after two hours of time-flying rockabilly and country swing, there wasnít a single dissatisfied patron in the house.

Supporting Hancock were two high quality warm-up acts: Kent Rose and Kelly Kessler and the Wichita Shut-ins. Rose, who opened the show with a well-received acoustic set, dresses like Buck Owens, sings like Dwight Yoakam, and writes songs like Buddy Holly. Of particular note were his tongue-in-cheek numbers Women Keep Smashing up My Cars and the lesbo-country anthem I Lost My Woman to Another Manís Wife. As for Kesslerís ensemble, the band featured accomplished musicians on harmonica, pedal steel, acoustic guitar, upright bass, washboard, and snare drum, though the setís finest moments were those in which Kessler shared the microphone with country percussionist Lawrence Peters for Bring on the Teardrops and God Put a Honky-Tonk in My Heart.

Swing Time is available from Barnes & Noble.
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