Doug Cox, singer and guitarist with Tramp for the Lord, used to play bass with headliners The Hangmen, so there’s a sense of warmth and the completion of a full circle about them opening for his old buds at the Redwood on Friday night.
But it very quickly because apparent that this isn’t simply a case of The Hangmen throwing Cox a bone. This is, after all, the band that we named “Best Folk/Roots Group” in our Best of L.A. Music issue earlier in the year. Back then, our own Falling James wrote, “Despite Cox’s hard-rocking past, Tramp for the Lord is a more restrained, if deranged, kind of country-folk band.”
That all adds up. Cox mentioned more than once here that the part of downtown L.A. the Redwood is situation in is the same neighborhood where he used to score heroin. His demeanor, his voice and his songs also heavily hint that he has lived a tough, perhaps seedy life at certain points. One hopes he’s all better now, but the cracked quality that the substances and experiences have left Cox with are not unattractive. His music is rich, dark, husky and syrupy, in all the good ways.
Second band The Cornfed Project describe themselves on Facebook as “sweaty fuckers playing really loud, just for you.” There really are no frills here, as bearded frontman Matt Wheeler leads his talented group through a set of rip-roaring rock & roll.
There are shades of Motorhead and Supersuckers about the tunes, with a little bit of southern rock twang. Just enough to add more grit, without disappearing into redneck territory. A cover of Kiss’ “Deuce” was a welcome set closer, but their own songs that came before it were equally impressive. Check them out, if you haven’t already.
But this night was all about The Hangmen, as they celebrate the release of their seventh album, Cactusville. It’s an album that needs celebrating too, because it’s a stunning collection of sleazy, bluesy, punk & roll tunes, from the opening filthy swing of the title track to the trashy, NY Dolls-esque brilliance of “Looking for Blood.”
Both of those were performed on Friday, with a few gems from their past thrown in. And what a past! According to the book that accompanies the excellent Hollywood Rocks box set, “Despite their undoubted class, The Hangmen unfortunately came around at a time when gutter metal bands were ten a penny.”
Maybe there’s some truth in that. Or maybe The Hangmen are simply one of those local bands, much like the Nymphs or the Sea Hags, that were always supposed to remain cult heroes with self-destructive tendencies rather than mainstream rockers. Their edge is what made them special.
And damn, The Hangmen are still special. The new album is superb — easily in the top five rock & roll albums released this year anywhere. Bryan Small is still a charismatic, snarling, sexy frontman with an effortlessly cool voice — part Jagger, part Stiv Bators —and a story to tell. Guitarist Jimmy James is a hairy dervish who pulls out one killer riff after another with apparent throwaway ease. Bassist Angelique Congleton and brilliantly named new-boy drummer Jorge E. Disguster keep it all together, the former throwing out a wry smile every now and then for those in the crowd that deserve it.
The Hangmen are one of those bands that long-time L.A. rock & roll fans will tell you about, and they’ll tell you that they should have been huge. That wasn’t written in the stars. They were never meant to be GN’R/Motley Crue-level stadium headliners. This is a band of hard-living musicians, who will only put out great albums. The Hangmen have never let us down.