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Hank3 spreads the outlaw gospel

Hank Williams III is hellbent on three things:

1. Venerating the outlaw-country tradition founded, in part, by his legendary grandfather.

2. Savaging the pop-country sound that has spread like leprosy through Nashville since Garth Brooks' "No Fences" album sold 23 million copies in the early '90s.

3. Outlasting — even alienating — his audience during his epic three-hour-plus live sets.

Hank3 accomplished all three goals last week during his show at the Roseland Theater in downtown Portland.

When I saw last month that Hank3 was stopping on Portland, I jumped on the chance to see this throwback to the gig-to-gig country lifestyle made famous by the likes of the original Hank Williams, David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck and Billy Joe Shaver.

The Roseland, if you haven't been there, is little more than a large concrete box that happens to host loud music. As far as amenities, there's a strangely out-of-place ice cream freezer in the lobby and a dark, crusty bar on the first floor that serves beer in plastic cups and Samson-strong well drinks for $5 a pop.

It was my first Hank3 show, but I knew better than to inch any closer to the stage. Flying work boots and spiked wrist gauntlets dripping with tetanus live up there.

Hank3 is on a years-long tour supporting his double album "Ghost to a Ghost/Guttertown" and his new side projects Attention Deficit Domination and 3 Bar Ranch.

A typical Hank3 show kicks off with a 90-minute country set and ends with a 90-minute onslaught of punk, hardcore, doom and speed metal. Only the strong survive, I was told.

At 8:30 the band strolled on stage and tore into "Night Time Ramblin' Man" off the breakout "Lovesick, Broke and Driftin'" album. The floor surged forward and Hank3 was immediately joined on stage by a few booze-addled moshers who traded a fist bump with the singer before security charged from the shadows to wrestle them back into the throng.

The show was stopped only once by a boozer who stumbled on stage and traded fists with members of security three feet from the stand-up bass player.

Hank3, looking only mildly annoyed in his torn jean jacket and well-chewed cowboy hat, cut the music and simply ordered, "All right, get'im out."

The guy was drug into the darkness and the show picked up where it left off.

Highlights ensued, with several cuts of Hank3's "Straight to Hell" masterpiece. The newest band was tight, as fiddle, banjo, stand-up bass and a Gibson Dobro melded into a hillbilly wail that could be appreciated by music aficionado and mosh-pit soldier alike.

Hank3 notoriously gets sick at various points in his tours, but he was in fine voice that night. His country yodel cadences were in full power on "Low Down," the best song on "Straight to Hell."

I could have used a few more of the slower, staring-into-the-abyss-of-your-beer songs such as "Low Down," but the band seemed to draw from anarchy on the floor. The set consisted mostly of rockers such as "Thrown Out of the Bar," "Crazed Country Rebel" and "Smoke & Wine."

The country set ended, followed by a small exodus for the door.

After 90 minutes, you see, things were only getting started. Maybe 10 minutes later, Hank3, accompanied only by a drummer, stalked on stage, his hair now hanging limply across his face. The house lights dropped to where you could see about five feet in front of you and a bizarre reel of early '80s Cold War news footage crawled up the wall behind the two-man band.

It was time for the doom metal of Attention Deficit Domination. After a few minutes of down-tuned guitar dirges with Black Sabbath drum flourishes, a sizeable contingent pushed toward the exits.

The friend who accompanied me, herself a musician, was wowed by Hank3's endurance. She couldn't believe the dude was still in the mood for doom metal after a contentious country set, during which he broke the strings on at least nine guitars.

ADD was followed by a 30-minute set of speed metal set to cattle auctioneer calls. For this, Hank3 donned an outlaw mask with only slits for eyes and a spiked chest plate worn by cattle rustlers. The guitar riffs were light-speed fast and the drums punishing.

By this time only 200 or so remained in the audience out of 1,500. And this seemed to suit Hank3 just fine.

When the lights went on for good a half-hour after midnight, Hank3 jumped off the stage and milled around with those who remained. I was among them, comforted by the knowledge that the outlaw country ideals of a stick-thin hillbilly who died in the back of a Cadillac 58 years ago are well-guarded by his grandson.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.