Get Ready for the Next Big Rock Star. No Really, Get Ready!

Ryan Bingham and Elijah Ford

If, a few years from now, you want to be able to say I saw one of the most influential rock and roll bands of our time while they were still playing in small clubs, you may still have a small window of opportunity.  I went to the show by Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses at TT the Bears, a fairly small rock club in Cambridge, Massachusetts on Tuesday, and walked away thoroughly convinced that they won’t be playing places that small for much longer.  They are definitely among the best bands I have ever seen play live, and word spreads fast about something like that.  Bingham already has an Oscar for best song and the tracks they played from the upcoming album to be released in September lead me to believe it may well be showered with accolades, as well.

If you didn’t already know the band, you might not have expected much had you been there when they walked out on the small stage. They came out into this small dark club, having to duck so they didn’t hit their heads on their way to the stage. They were dressed unremarkably, with only Elijah Ford, the bassist and keyboardist looking like he’d made any effort at all.  The rest were dressed for work in jeans and work shirts.  Ryan wore Carthart work pants.  It turns out that this was appropriate attire, because go to work they did!  They played hard, loud and superbly, really into the music and committed to giving the audience the best show they could.

(Here’s a video of their performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, to give you a little bit of a sense of how they sound.  More on the show and the band, after the clip.) 

Elijah Ford, Corby Schaub, Ryan Bingham and Matt Smith

Ryan is a thin, wiry young man, and you can see the veins and muscles in his neck and arm swell as he belts out lyrics like, “When the day is done, I was born a bad man’s son!”  Elijah Ford, with his Fedora, stylish jeans, and pendant was the epitome of cool, and turned out a rocking rhythm.  Matt Smith is essentially the embodiment of the archetypal cool percussionist, keeping it all in time without missing a beat.  Corby Schaub rocks his electric guitars like a sixties guitar god, but here’s the thing about him; He rocks the mandolin the exact same way!  Who knew the mandolin could rock like that?

You’ll most likely find Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses in the country music bins of your local record store.  I’m not saying they don’t belong there, but I am saying they rock!  Any other band should be flattered to be in their company.  Ryan’s music evokes some of the country legends, it’s true.  You’ll hear a little Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the like.  But he also evokes the likes of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and other Rock greats.  To me he doesn’t quite fit because the country music bins are full of the new pop.  Country is riding high on the charts and that has meant that a larger and larger percentage of it is made to formula, with cliched lyrics.  It’s a genre people choose, not a genre the artists seem to feel.  Ryan’s music is not formulaic and his lyrics are not cliched.  Artists like Ryan are often referred to as Alternative Country, we might also also call it country/rock if we wanted to be purely descriptive, but that evokes artists from the 70s that it isn’t really helpful to compare this band too.  Rock/country?

Labels are often not useful in describing music, only in marketing it, so I will not dwell on analogies or possible influences.  Let’s just say that he does his thing!

Jon Landau‘s 1974 characterization of Bruce Springsteen as the future of rock and roll is now the stuff of legend, but I feel that kind of exuberance about Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses now, so I can relate!

Bingham’s music is alternately socially relevant, deeply moving, or a straight forward rush of good-old, good-time, Rock n’ Roll energy.   He played tracks from the new album, Junky Star, on Tuesday and they are brilliant!  Place your advance order as soon as they start taking them!

TT the Bears is a small venue, and from the back against the wall you’re probably only about 150 – 200 ft away.  It was amazing to see this band in that setting.  They do it well.  But I also got a taste of how they will handle a big venue the day before in Gilford, NH at the Meadowbrook Pavilion, and they rocked that, too.  The album coming out in a few months, may well be their breakout album, so like I said, if you can catch one of the last dates they’ll be playing between now and then, do.  Then you, too, will be able to say I saw them when….

UPDATE: There is another review of the concert, with some fantastic photographs, on the melophobe site.

UPDATE 2: To the extent that you can even find a record store anymore, don’t go looking for Ryan’s albums in the country section!

8 thoughts on “Get Ready for the Next Big Rock Star. No Really, Get Ready!

  1. Ever since hearing him on the Crazy Heart CD, I, too, have felt like I am seeing the rise of someone people will be talking about years from now. The fact that he writes his own songs and plays guitar like a master puts him at the top of my list. Glad to see someone else appreciates this guy like I do. Willie Nelson knows talent when he sees it. That’s why he has him signed as his opening act this Fall. Who will the audience really be coming to see? We’ll find out!!!

  2. A very good question. I thin Junky Star, releasing September 7, is likely to be the breakthrough album, simply because now he’s caught people’s attention with “The Weary Kind.” The challenge with this band has been finding their audience. They rock a little to much and too loudly for a lot of country fans. Plus neither the music or lyrics fit the commercial formula that so dominates country these days! On the other hand, the mere fact that the local record store or iTunes had him classified under country closed the minds of some who would have liked it if they bothered to listen. But it’s amazing how much an Oscar can open minds.

    We’ll see!

  3. When people ask me what music I like, I answer, “Whatever is good.” With acoustics that seamlessly and constantly cross between country, rock, and (blues), and lyrics generated from “hard times” and sheer insight into the American culture’s landscape, Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses sit at the top of music today.

    Ryan Bingham quickly got my attention on his 30 minute set from Austin City Limits that first aired in early 2009. Mescalito & Roadhouse Sun are albums I have played literally hundreds of times in the span of not quite two years, and his work on Crazy Heart continued to fuel the respect I have for him as a musician & songwriter. My wife asked me to compare him to other musicians she is familiar with, and I replied, “Bob Dylan – yeah, I’m sticking with that.” It was pretty to cool to read the Rolling Stone about six weeks later that that was their writer’s comparison as well!

  4. I saw this band play at a small venue in San Luis Obispo last summer, I knew then that they were something special. Of course their records, “Mescalito” and, “Roadhouse Sun” have been in constant rotation ever since; then the Oscar for which Mr. Bingham was so very deserving of because that song is incredible! I, too believe that this will be there breakout record and, I too can say I saw them when. . .

  5. I answer the same thing, Josh! Genre is a lot less important to me than quality. And the best artists are rarely easily pigeonholed, anyway.

  6. That must have been great, Naomi. We don’ t too many opportunities to see them up here, but I’ve been lucky enough to catch a few shows. It’s also been great to read the feedback on this post, here and where it has been reposted, because I don’t know a lot of people up here in New England who share my enthusiasm for the band. I feel like I have a group of kindred spirits in those who’ve responded to this.

  7. My son and I went to see Ryan & Co. 2 nights ago in Pasadena and they totally rocked the place! They’ve got themselves a new fan in my son and probably a couple hundred others who were there!

  8. Pingback: Concert Gallery: Ryan Bingham in DC | DWP

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