Wayne Hancock @ the Ivy Room, 06 November, 2001

With the plethora of hipster bars in the Bay Area, Albany's Ivy Room sure ain't the kinda place you expect to see underground country artists like Wayne "The Train" Hancock. But the Albany dive bar couldn't have been more appropriate for Hancock's ramshackle honky-tonk stylings.

Nothing about Wayne the Train says country star. But don't let his pug face and aloha shirt fool you: Once he starts singing, he is transformed. Hancock sounds even more like Hank Williams than his good friend Hank Williams III; it was easy enough to close my eyes and pretend it was Hank himself up there. Right down to the plaintive yodelling, Hancock nailed the dead center of every note.

His band, on the other hand, did not. Apart from a very serviceable bass player, he was backed by a thoroughly inept electric guitarist and a pedal steel player who had to be fed the chord changes through almost every song. Wayne's own acoustic guitar playing is certainly nothing to write home about either, but it was stellar compared to his guitar player's atonal, ham-handed soloing. Positively painful.

Also painful was the crowd. The Ivy Room's dive-bar decor may have been perfect; its patrons were anything but. We were jostled by bad swing dancers, hassled by Ivy Room regulars, and looked askance at by cooler-than-thou alt-country scenesters. Only Wayne's angelic voice and amazing between-song banter made us stay as long as we did.

But give me the unwashed masses of the the East Bay over the Mission hipster elite of the Elbo Room, where Hancock plays tonight. Drunken stumblebums, spastic dancers, and inept musicians? Yep, I think ol' Hank is up there somewhere, smiling. ...