Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, The Rex Theater, Pittsburgh

Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses
Rex Theater, Pittsburgh, October 19, 2010

There’s only one thing better than listening to a Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses record; it’s seeing them live. I’ve seen them twice this year as they are still very much a road band, so I can also say that the only thing better than seeing them (as many will have done) as part of the summer concert juggernaut that was the Country Throwdown Tour (where they occupied a very tiny slice of a giant stage playing to folks in hats fashioned out of beer cans), is seeing them in their natural habitat: a smaller, darker, grubbier venue where even fans at the back felt like they were being sung to: the Rex Theater, for instance.

On October 19, there were so many fans that if you failed to arrive suitably early, at the back is where you would have been, too. The good-natured crowd came from far and wide and responded with raucous enthusiasm to everything the band played, which was a balanced mix of songs from their first record, Roadhouse Sun, and their new one, Junky Star.

As I write this, the video for “The Weary Kind” has just come on the TV. It’s a typical music video featuring a song from a film; clips interspersed with Bingham playing guitar. The reason it’s on my TV at all is because it won him an Oscar last year for Best Song. It is a magnificent bit of old-school musicianship, and when he failed to play it in the summer show, the crowd bristled noticeably. Hence it is with a good deal of savvy that he played it as his encore this fall. As I had the sweet spot (next to the stage, right under Bingham’s mic) I tried subtly to record it by placing my phone on the stage, but it snapped shut halfway through. Luckily, the guy next to me was less shy about this sort of thing: his footage can be seen here.

The Dead Horses are a professional outfit; they rock out yet remain always on focus and in tune with one another, cutting more loose in this venue than they do, say, when being filmed on stage playing Austin City Limits, much of which you can see on YouTube. There, Ryan looks like Dylan redux in a white hat, and truly, this is who he reminds you of, both in his singing and the tenor of his songwriting, which often touches on topics that support the underdog. When Bingham sings in his distinctive rasp, he looks comfortable, gazing at no-one in particular, just doing his thing with no grain of pretense or showmanship. He lets the music speak for itself.

What the music says is Get up off your ass and listen: this is the real deal. Don’t settle for less. If you’re going to don a hat, let it be made of felt, not beer cans. Come on out to a show. It’s good for your soul. 

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