Last Night: Ryan Bingham at House of Blues
It's tempting to label Ryan Bingham a "throwback," because nothing he does is especially modern. The former rodeo cowboy's brand of classic rock, country-blues and flatland boogie feels like it blew in from out of the past, like a dust storm from out beyond Abilene or somewhere.
Then again, the No. 1 rock album on iTunes this week is the "new" Jimi Hendrix release, People, Hell & Angels. Bingham packed House of Blues last night with a boisterous crowd that felt more like a Saturday night than Sunday. To borrow a phrase from one of his mentors, Joe Ely, not that much has changed.
Thirty years ago, Joe Ely was Bingham, a thoughtful hellraiser from the wilds of West Texas with a shit-hot band. Though he's no doubt the only ex-bull-rider ever to share in a Best Original Song Oscar, Bingham seems destined to follow Ely down the same dusty road: audiences who adore him, especially in the Southwest, but somewhere short of stardom and brooding about other matters besides lack of fame in his music.
To wit, there was not a single moment during Bingham's 90-minute set that felt like an attempt at a "pop" sound, or to cross over anywhere besides the other lane on the highway. But there were plenty of moments, such as "Sunrise," where it was difficult to hear the words over the crowd's singing.
To continue the Ely analogy just a little longer, Bingham appears to venerate Led Zeppelin in his music as much as Joe does Buddy Holly. The songs Sunday seemed to be saturated in sweat, impossibly dense, perhaps a little stoned at times, but always pushing forward. Richard Bowden's violin gave off a tinge of "Kashmir" to a couple of songs, and Evan Weatherford's lead guitar alternated between needles and daggers.
The rhythm section, whose names were lost to the chattering crowd during Bingham's introductions, built more than ample foundations to lumbering, stomping songs that needed a lot of support. It was a long way from a Zeppelin cover band -- there were strong hints of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt on "South Side of Heaven" -- but had the same intensity and drive. In other words, it was electrifying.
About halfway through, Bingham shooed the band offstange and inserted a couple of acoustic songs in the middle of the set -- the old border ballad "Malaguena," which he said he picked up in Laredo (it sounded like it), and "Hallelujah (Dead and Gone)," a highlight of 2010's Junky Star -- probably just to lighten up the intensity of the set a little. But then they built it right back up again in the closing volley of one barrel-chested rocker after another: "Beg for Broken Legs," "Western Shore" and "Bluebird," which he introduced with "We're gonna get a little psychedelic on ya."
After that song was over, the room was already at about a nine, and Bingham said, "Y'all ready to turn this shit up?" And "Sunshine" and "Bread + Water," a pair of stompy, wide axe handles from 2007's Mescalito, put it right through the roof.
Personal Bias: Um. Approve.
The Crowd: Big date night for those in ballcaps and Stetsons. A surprising number of tucked-in shirttails.
Overheard in the Crowd: "He's a sweetheart, though. Don't worry about it."
Random Notebook Dump: Seems like Jimi Hendrix would have written a song called "Bluebird" if he lived long enough.