I'm stunned. I can't even begin to express how exciting and amazing this show turned out to be. Throughout the entire set I was constantly mumbling, "Holy shit, this is awesome," and complementing my psycho-babble praise were head shakes of disbelief as I listened to a former rodeo dude/ranch hand holler about minimum wage and droughts in Texas before a towering drum kit on the verge of imploding on us all. To say the least, this is the best show I've seen in a long time. This is why I love music. This is what keeps me excited and coming back frothing at the mouth for more.
Humbly surrounded onstage by a sneakily note-heavy bassist, a spiffy slide guitarist who couldn't stop ascending on his solos, an utterly insane Darby O'Gill-looking fiddle player and a mysterious dark-haired kid hiding behind a rather large but sparse drum kit, Bingham wasted no time getting into his moody and more enveloped songs such as "Hard Times," "Day is Done," and "Sunrise." Surprising opening choices given their somewhat dismal subject matter (aside from being a few personal favorites of mine), these songs had the small and intimate crowd hollering along and cheering the singer on with enthusiasm. "Ryan Fuckin' Bingham!" I heard more than a few times. Ryan Fuckin' Bingham is right.
The band didn't seem necessarily well rehearsed, but rather sounded as if they were presenting these songs of working-class struggle, rural despair and post-post-adolescence angst to the world for the first time. These shit-kickin' tunes were so fresh and exciting. Nearly every song included a spastic country punk-rock exit, which found the band playing as fast and ferociously as humanly possible. All hands and arms appeared only as cartoonish blurs onstage for a brief minute. Very seldom do I get swept into such rock 'n' roll standard practice at a show. But these guys meant it. They were pissed and passionate. Not unlike Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson or even Black Flag. Maintaining whatever chord progression the song utilized, the musicians progressively sped it up to the point of nearly avant-garde country nonsense. It was awesome, and it'll be a good appeasement for the Replacements (circa 1982) I never had the chance to see.
These Replacements-sounding moments provided a good punk-rock touchstone for me, as I am a novice to the alt-country or country rock breed. But I found myself infatuated with the blue-collar vibes, the beautiful girls swooning and the crazy fiddling. Oh, the fiddling. I love the fiddle now, all because of that guy tucked slightly behind Bingham's left, the fiddle player -- who clearly had a few decades on the rest of the band as evidenced by his patchy wiry white hair -- repeatedly kicked it in high gear and by the end of the first song sported a completely battered bow. During a handful of songs, his performances (and his hilarious Humpty Dumpty looking movements -- I'll call it a dance and employ it to my own enjoyment) basically stole the spotlight from Bingham multiple times.
During songs like "Tell my Mother I Miss Her So" and "Country Roads," both guitarists formed a circle with the Old Man Fiddle and spun some old down-home shit spontaneously. Unfortunately, the fiddle was low in the mix and often buried under the massive sounds of the lead guitars. But, at least the lead guitars (which primarily consisted of dramatic and moody slide guitar courtesy of both guitarists) were absolutely dirty and rotten and completely gnarly. To my surprise, Bingham took the lead on a lot of the songs, whether using a beaten Gibson acoustic, a rich twelve-string, a Telecaster or some ragged slide acoustic, Bingham played aggressively with abandon (especially during the encore numbers) adding to the rawness of the set.
But Bingham also proved to be a very neat and intricate guitarist when he cleared the stage mid-show to perform a handful of solo numbers including the bilingual "Boracho Station," which he claims was the first song he learned to play on guitar as it was taught to him by an old Mexican guitar player down on the Mexican/Texan border -- you couldn't make this stuff up, or at least I hope he can't. Also, performed were his song about "smoking a joint with the Dude," aka the song from the film "Crazy Heart," and "Hallelujah," which garnered much adoration. One fan even hollered, "Thank you, Ryan," as he introduced the sweeping and sentimental chords. Being the humble guy he is, Ryan tipped his hat and allowed a quick and fleeting smile to the certain appreciative fan in the audience.
He brought the band back on stage, to bring the last third of the show home. You could find the songwriter playing with various Dylan-isms during the incendiary "Southside of Heaven." (Another personal favorite -- you should hear me sing this song while I vacuum the house, I sound just like him.) Bingham employed the Dylan tactic of changing up the phrasing and melody of the song to make it nearly unrecognizable. The band tore through a couple more aggressive tracks like "Guess Who's Knockin'," which was appropriately desperate and raucous.
One thing that differentiates this ensemble from the pack is the work of their very own ferocious drummer. Obliterating his drums like an angry young John Bonham, this guy escalates these songs from Mellencamp territory to straight-up Zeppelin turf. He packed a powerful punch behind every single line Bingham spat out.
The band performed an epic, nearly cinematic three-song encore of "Bluebird," "Sunshine," and "Bread and Water." These songs were approached with patience and were sonically and spatially explored; the band really stretched them out and let them breathe like a country-tinged U2 or Kings of Leon.
Finally, I caught a show that let sloppy chords haphazardly ring out, where tempos varied wildly and unpredictably, and ferociously strumming the guitar like a mad man constituted a matter of life and death. This was raw, unadulterated rock 'n' roll from a musician who can truly identify with the wageworker and the kid kicked out on the streets, as he is one himself.