LIVE REVIEW: Hayseed Dixie, O2 Academy 2, Newcastle

HAYSEED DIXIE ... slaying them rockgrass style as the O2 Academy 2.
HAYSEED DIXIE ... slaying them rockgrass style as the O2 Academy 2.

OVER the course of 15 years and just as many albums, Hayseed Dixie have carved a niche for themselves as the world’s premier ‘rockgrass’ band.

It’s a genre they invented, blending the bluegrass strain of country music with hard rock, and while others have tried, no one does it better.

I’ve got half a dozen of their albums, which are a little hit and miss, with some of their re-interpretations working better than others, but I’d never seen them live, so wasn’t sure what to expect.

The four-piece play acoustic guitar and bass, mandolin, banjo and fiddle, and the fact this gig was a sell-out should have given some indication of what lay in store.

It was part of a tour to promote their latest album, Hair Down To My Grass, which sees them tackle the big-haired 80s metal which is still popular in their native US, and many parts of Europe.

Thus, it gave this set their versions of Don’t Stop Believin’ (ruined by so many TV talent show wannabees, but prompting a massive singalong here), Eye Of The Tiger, We’re Not Gonna Take It and Pour Some Sugar On Me.

Elsewhere they turned their attention to AC/DC (the opening Hells Bells, You Shook Me All Night Long and a chunk of Highway To Hell), Queen (Fat Bottomed Girls and a stunning Bohemian Rhapsody) and Motorhead (what else, Ace Of Spades).

They showed they’re not just a covers band with a handful of original compositions by main man John ‘Barley Scotch’ Wheeler.

Very decent they were too - Tolerance, In The Backyard, Moonshiner’s Daughter and I’m Keeping Your Poop (In A Jar) (“this song’s the most successful I’ve ever written - it’s earned me literally hundreds of dollars.”) sat nicely alongside their hillbilly-esque reworkings of classic rock songs.

Wheeler was a most engaging frontman, and, to the delight of most, found time between songs to have a go at Coldplay, Mumford and Sons, UKIP (“if Nigel Farage is so British, why does he say his name the French way, instead of rhyming with garage?”) and unkind critics.

He, Jake Byers on bass and recent recruits Johnny Butten (banjo) and Hippy Joe Hymas (mandolin) don’t take themselves entirely seriously, but they do deserve to be taken seriously as musicians.

They proved that beyond doubt with a 10-minute mash-up encore which started out as Hotel California and ended up as Comfortably Numb, with excerpts of at least half a dozen other songs inbetween.

Now married to an Irish girl and living in Norwich, Wheeler may pretend to be a Deep South preacher in an attempt to build some laughs into the show, but here he was preaching to the converted – me included.