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The Lowdown:

Unknown Hinson

Based In:
Charlotte, NC


Americana, country, western, rock, comedy, lunacy


The Beachland Ballroom

Concert Date:
July 20, 2012

Opening Acts:
More Squidbillies episodes than you can count without using your toes


Related Articles:

Unknown Hinson performs at the Beachland Ballroom

Rating: 8 out of 10



July 30, 2012


Unknown Hinson: The Beachland Ballroom, 7/20/2012

by Alan "Pender" Pendergrass


Unknown Hinson, making a rare Cleveland appearance, entertained and occasionally frightened his audience at the Beachland Ballroom with his mix of insane guitar work and even more insane lyrics. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.


Among the dozens of Americana artists No Surf Music has enjoyed covering over the past year, Unknown Hinson is perhaps the most unique. And while we have yet to review one of his albums—he hasn’t dropped a studio recording in quite a while—his music is best suited for a live performance anyway. After all, who could forget his rollicking set (to say nothing of our rollicking review) in Columbus last fall? Well, now it’s Cleveland’s turn.

Hinson alternately charmed, bewildered, amused, and possibly terrified his audience at the Beachland Ballroom, and we were there to dutifully cover it all.

One must seriously wonder how Hinson keeps his face contorted like this throughout a whole show. And check out the custom bat frets on his guitar. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

He’s definitely unique. Hinson claims to hate “rawk” music, frequently sneering about how “Any idiot can play that mess,” but his guitar-fueled set rocks harder than almost any country act. Hell, he rocks harder than a lot of rock acts.

And yet, it’s still country. Mixed in between (and sometimes on top of) Hinson’s blistering guitar solos, the über-country pedal steel is a big part of his show. As is his adaptable rhythm section, competently shifting from traditional country back beats to psychedelia to straight-rock at Hinson’s whim.

When you listen to the lyrics, it only gets weirder. Hinson is a walking caricature of the South, and his lyrics are a satirical take on the down-home stereotypes we’ve all witnessed at one time or another at a Waffle House or boiled peanut stand or mud bog. All the standard jokes—drunkenness, arrogance, spousal abuse, homophobia, philandering—are represented. Which is not to say the songs themselves are standard: for all his goofy makeup, false eyebrows, and exaggerated hillbilly accent, Unknown Hinson is a great comedic writer. Case in point, “Foggy Windows,” his crooning “if I cain’t have ya, no one will” take on stalking:

If you look now, you might think you see a ghost from your past
But it’s only condensation, my breath on this glass.

“Foggy Windows,” from the highly recommended The Future is Unknown, is just one of nearly thirty tunes he reeled off on Friday night. Yeah, Unknown gives the folks their money’s worth. But we’re jumping ahead. First, the opener.

There was none. As has apparently become a custom, Unknown opened the show with six straight episodes of Squidbillies, the Adult Swim cartoon for which he has become marginally famous as a voice actor. Now, I’m as big a fan of Squidbillies as you’ll meet, but two or three episodes probably would do it. Then again, as any Clevelander who’s ever sat through the Whiskey Daredevils can attest, there are worse opening acts than an hour of cartoons. Still, the crowd was visibly restless by the time the house lights finally dimmed.

When Hinson took the stage, however, the restlessness melted away. People were entranced. His cult followers were out in force, and it sometimes felt like there wasn’t a single person there who didn’t already know the songs by heart. That’s how it is with this guy—nobody randomly stumbles into an Unknown Hinson show. Everyone there was already a fan or was dragged out by a friend with “dude, you gotta see this guy!” promises of insanity.

Folks were mesmerized during this show for one reason: the guitar. Much as I love the humorous lyrics and outlandish persona (as in Columbus, he matter-of-factly offered to “sign your girlfriend’s breasts for free”), the shitty sound guys and the nature of live shows in general meant the real focus was his guitar work.

He started off with “Silver Platter,” a frenetic rocker that set the tone for any newbs who didn’t know what they were in for. To leave no doubt, he followed up with “Peace, Love, and Hard Liquor.”

If Unknown Hinson comes through your town, bolt the door, lock the windows, hide your daugher and make sure you get ticktes. Photo by Jason D. 'Diesel' Hamad, No Surf Music.

And that’s where things really took off. After a quick intro jam, he broke into a slightly modified (and highly ass-kicking) cover of The Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought the Law,” which was the highlight of the show. The modified lyrics (“I fought the law and I won”), faux bravado, and crazy extended guitar breaks just killed it. I’ve been waiting for a long time to see the classic rock covers Hinson famously includes in some shows, and this didn’t disappoint.

The rest of his catalog is mostly similar guitar-drenched novelty songs, but there’s one point where his over-the-top shtick almost breaks down. His Independent Music Award-winning “Torture Town” is a real song. No gibberish, no jokes, just country music. It’s a real departure from the “Your Man is Gay” stuff. I mean, this song sounds like a Glen Campbell record. A straightforward country heartbreak tune, “Torture Town” is his most subdued song by a mile, but it’s also one of his best. Listening to it, you think maybe this guy is more “crazy like a fox” than just plain crazy. Of course, the moment fades quickly as the guitar roars back to life and the lyrics turn to hippie girls studying philosophy in school (“Baby, is that your major or your minor?”). But for a brief moment, you can see the man behind the gimmick.

He played his whole damn catalog, just about. Anything you wanted to hear, you likely did. And then some. My favorites include “I Cleaned Out a Room in My Trailer for You,” “Rock and Roll is Straight From Hell,” “Venus Bound,” and “Hippie Girl.”

“The King of Country Western Troubadours” was again the closer, and it’s a perfect ending. The contrast between “country/western” in the title and the growling, five-minute rock guitar breaks sums up all that is Unknown Hinson. He’s a walking contradiction, to borrow from Kris Kristopherson, but he puts on a helluva show.

Fueled by the success of Squidbillies, Unknown is on the road earning “hunnerds” a night at his show dates. If you’re into electric guitar, especially without the self-indulgent, over-serious crap that sometimes accompanies it, you’ll dig this. You won’t see another show like it.

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For a taste of Unknown Hinson, buy The Future is Unknown on Amazon!


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