When a pal informed me that a local band he was acquainted with had secured the opening slot for the George Thorogood/Molly Hatchet concert, I was happy for them. When he offered to get me a ticket, I was slightly dismayed. You see, I detest Southern Rock, and Thorogood, face it, is pretty darn boring. However, the date of the show fell on my birthday, and since I don't like my birthday anyway, I figured I'd just go for the fun of it. If nothing else it would be an amusing spectacle of hillbilly revelry.
I sure was wrong about that. The concert was nothing less than sheer genius and provided valuable insights into the American psyche.
Upon arrival, I noted many motorcycle enthusiasts, denizens of mobile home parks, alleged fry cooks and other redneck types enthusiastically stumbling toward the gates. I lost control of myself immediately, and as soon as I got out of the car, I felt compelled to let out a big ol' rebel yell: “YEEEEE-HEWWWWW!” I felt right at home after that, much to the dismay of my companions.
The opening act (Jammin' With Jelly) performed quite well, and got to play a full set. It was nice to hear them in such a setting and they were obviously quite proud of the opportunity.
However, nothing could have prepared me for Jacksonville, Fla.'s second-best gift to music, Molly Hatchet. The best, of course, was Lynyrd Skynyrd, who unfortunately were eaten by alligators following a tragic plane crash.
Upon taking the stage, the lead singer, exhorted the crowd to yell "HELL YEAH" many times. Apparently this is their slogan, their mantra. He appeared to have n IQ of about 37, and had long unkempt hair cascading down his back, topped by a cowboy hat. His Southern accent was both appalling and charming. He delivered the material in a gruff, amelodic bark.
The music was very typical Southern Rock. The blues-based twin guitar leads, the white-trash anthemic lyrics, the boogie-rock beats. I need to admit that despite my disdain for Southern Rock, I am sometimes a sucker for boogie-rock, and I love a good Seventies-style rock extravaganza. So I was enjoying this concert immensely. The extremely loud volume levels were delightful. I also found the whole thing quite comical, as I have studied popular music at length my whole life. I wish sometimes that I didn't have so much knowledge and I could be like the others in attendance and appreciate Molly Hatchet un-ironically. Perhaps if I drank so much that I'd lobotomize myself, but I am afraid that even then, I would still find the whole thing humorous. And, it was indeed a very funny show, one of the finest comedies I've ever seen in rock music. HELL YEAH! It was a real caricature.
The real turning point for me came when, at the end of one song, the guitarist with the poofy grey hair was playing those wanky wheedle-dee-dee guitar licks over and over. It was the Big Rock Buildup. The singer exited the stage, and returned with an American flag, which he raised as a backdrop for the guitarists note-fest. As if that weren't enough, the band broke into "Dixie" behind him. That's right: "I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there are not forgotten." THAT Dixie.
Confederate imagery abounds in the Southern Rock genre. And, considering that another one of the South's most well-known anthems is a stupid, hateful and, let's face it, blatantly racist song ("Sweet Home Alabama"), I was shocked. So, to play "Dixie," when your music is very heavily indebted to Black music, which springs from slavery and sharecropping days, is nothing short of disgraceful. No one else seemed to notice. Surprise. HELL YEAH!
A couple songs later, he brought out a POW/MIA flag and made some comments about supporting the troops or something like that. I became so agitated that I had to yell out, "Death to Muslims! Kill the (insert racist slur here)!" No one in my immediate vicinity seemed to care.
And so it went. Thumping sludge-beats and lengthy guitar leads, devil horns and fist pounding. HELL YEAH! The lyrics were slogan-like, and they even did some vaguely political material. There was one song with a chorus of "Justice is blind," which I misheard as "Justice is white," which might have even worked better, considering.
There were two guitarists, and the one on the right had a misshaped, swollen toad-like face and was quite overweight. This did not stop him from delivering the shit-hot rocking leads the 'Hatch is known for. I guess he is the only founding member still in the band. There was a time in the Nineties when he left, and they did not even have one single original member. Brilliant! HELL YEAH! The shag haircut guy on the left somehow managed to secure the trademark, and is now considered the leader. He was quite capable on guitar, though he often resorted to solos that were cliche-filled, and wankerous. It was the toad-like guy that was interesting to watch, though. He looked as if he would keel over at any minute, as his jowls vibrated in time to the jams.
Later in the set, something I'd never heard before: They did a serious, without-a-hint-of-ironic-detachment version of ... you guessed it ... “Free (Fucking) Bird.” It was surreal. They then closed with their Big Hit Classic Rock Song "Flirtin’ With Disaster." All in all, solid entertainment. If boogie rock and the comic nature of the performance weren't enough, the Confederate right-wing hillbilly racist stuff really clinched it for me.
George Thorogood came on next. He had this big Hollywood-style stage setup and his moves were all choreographed, and he actually appeared unexpectedly effeminate. He played the same old songs. I guess he makes a comfortable living doing this. He should tour with the Mike Love Beach Boys. I would say his show was entertaining, but quite boring.
No one could have topped the redneck rock of Molly Hatchet anyway. HELL YEAH!
The icing on my birthday cake was the merch table. My buddy bought me a wonderful gift that I will wear often and with pride: a Molly Hatchet T-shirt. It features their logo at the top and the illustration depicts the famous flag-raising scene at Iwo Jima (huh?), with flames in the background. The flag is one-half American flag and one-half Confederate flag. The caption reads: "The South Has Risen Again."
I'm not making any of this up. I hope I never have to set foot in Florida.