There's an uneasy truth about tribute bands - I know Hayseed Dixie are more than a tribute act, but this one applies to them too. They often seem to be much better musicians than 90 percent of your so-called serious artists. Maybe it's because they think of themselves more as professional musicians rather than rock stars, who knows. Straight tribute bands, of course, have to learn to play exactly like other bands, and learning someone else's style convincingly can sometimes be harder than developing your own. Not a problem for those Hayseed boys, though. They've applied their own signature rockgrass approach to everything from AC/DC to Outkast with a musical virtuosity that belies the hillbilly image.
Hayseed Dixie do have serious bluegrass credentials, mind. The Reno brothers, Don Wayne (banjo) and Deacon Dale (mandolin) are the sons of one of the greatest bluegrass players ever, Don Reno, and their father's influence is clear in the blinding speed on show here. However they also play up to every dumb hillbilly stereotype they can, and have a lot of fun with us in the process.
On to the gig we've got here, taken from the Liverpool leg of their 2005 UK tour. It's a great show, and despite the Academy being packed out there's a real sense of low-key intimacy that gives more of a folk-club vibe to proceedings. While the Reno boys own the stage in terms of musical showmanship, frontman Barley Scotch (aka John Wheeler) has clearly put his heart into maintaining the bands' offbeat image. His plays the stereotypical evangelical Southern preacher, proclaiming the values of women and liquor from his pulpit and getting the crowd to yell Hallelujah a lot - which is quite entertaining, despite his dungarees and general cuddliness making him unlikely to ever strike the fear of God into anyone.
There plenty of AC/DC of course - Hell's Bells is particularly entertaining, with a shop-counter bell standing in on the intro. However it's the more recent covers (such as Black Sabbath's War Pigs), Wheeler's original numbers and the dazzling instrumental breakdowns that are best. Kirby Hill, especially, is still a great number with some genuine comedy menace to it, while Wheeler's favourite is clearly Keeping Your Poop In A Jar. You can't miss the pride welling up in him as he introduces the song, even though it's not as cleverly puerile as Moonshiner's Daughter ("she makes me liquor all night long...").
So the Dixie put on a good show - though there are a couple of major niggles with this DVD. First, and foremost, is the recording itself. It's hard to place just what's wrong with it, but somehow the sound and the picture don't always seem quite in sync, which can be distracting. Also - important to anyone else who thought that their version of Outkast's Roses was one of the best things of 2005 - they don't play it! Why? The video's here as an extra, but that's not the same - why didn't they play it? Come on Dixie, that's just wrong.
Speaking of extras, there's some fun stuff here - a little comedy spin on the Hayseed Dixie legend (which revolves around a car full of AC/DC records crashing in the Appalachian Mountains) and an entertaining interview, in which Wheeler's love for 'Keeping Your Poop...' is expanded in more detail. It all adds up to a fun package for Hayseed fans, and for any bluegrass lovers who can get past, or get into, the novelty value. If you're new to Hayseed, however, the quality of the DVD itself may make it hard work - in this case, get yourself a copy of A Hot Piece Of Grass instead. After all, that does have Roses on it...