Reviewed by Bill Tokash
When long-time Bloodshot Records recording artist Wayne “The Train” Hancock comes to town, you just know he’s gonna swing. And you know he’s gonna swing in a way that takes you straight back in time to the juke joints of Denton, Kilgore and Austin, Texas, where Wayne is from. Hancock’s unique blend of Hank William’s honkytonk blues coupled with Bob Wills-fueled western swing and a dash of rockabilly, which he calls Juke Joint Swing, is a perfect fit for Berwyn, Illinois’ legendary FitzGerald’s Nightclub. FitzGerald’s, one of my all-time favorite music venues in the Greater Chicagoland area, is ground zero for American Music, as its been coined here in Chicago, and with the recent announcement that Bill FitzGerald is trying to sell the club after 40 years and retire, this show became an absolute must-see for me.
Wayne and the band was certainly up to the task on this beautiful weekday summer evening. They busted out of the gate with Thunderstorms and Neon Signs from his 1995 debut to kick the show off. Just close your eyes and you can damn near see and feel the lighting cracking out over the Texas countryside as you ride into some small town looking for the next tavern’s neon sign.
I had not seen Wayne since he added Austin steel player Rose Sinclair to the band, and the interplay between Rose and Bart Weilburg, Wayne’s lead guitarist, was captivating. Goddam do I love to hear steel guitar mixed in with tasty Telemaster licks like that! And with stand-up bass lines bein’ laid down by the talented Harvey Crowder, right alongside Wayne’s piledriving right elbow banging out the rhythm, we were all off and runnin’!
I don’t think Wayne believes in pre-arranged set lists, as the band was making it up on the fly, which is always fun to watch. The band spun through classics like Juke Joint Jumpin’, 87 Southbound, Johnny Law, Slingin’ Rhythm, a perfect cover of Hank’s Mind Your Own Business, and That’s What Daddy Wants to highlight a few. And Wayne later took the opportunity to call out Bloodshot Record’s co-leaders Rob Miller and Nan Warshaw, who were in the house. Toward the middle of the set, which dug deeper into Wayne’s rockabilly side, he dedicated a rousing cover of Carl Perkin’s Blue Suede Shoes to Rob and Nan.
Wayne’s gift is to sound retro without being cliché, and that’s no small task. John Lennon famously said that, “one’s originality comes from the inability to emulate your influences.” Austin City Limits fans may recall that Dale Watson cited that John Lennon quote on his episode a few years ago, as inspiration to his Ameripolitan music style. So it’s fitting to highlight how accurately that quote applies to Wayne Hancock’s music as well.