March 21st, 2011

Loopster Live: Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses at House of Blues

My motivation for taking pictures at concerts has many roots, but I have to acknowledge a tendency towards introversion as a leading cause. My editor, however, is not satisfied with the few captions usually submitted with my favorite shots, and so, I began trying to recap (as opposed to reviewing) the shows in words as well as pictures.

Not coincidentally, this new found responsibility has made it increasingly difficult to remain detached when experiencing a performer’s music as it deeply affects a captive audience. Saturday’s line-up at the House of BluesLiam Gerner, The Silent Comedy and, the headliner, Ryan Bingham – provided an example of a night where my documenting duties would have been trumped by the ability to be a casual observer.

I once heard the challenge of describing music in written word to be the equivalent of trying to explain the color orange to the sightless. So,  if I resort to saying these acts were a combination of bright reds and yellows, please forgive me. While that might not capture their music fully, hopefully it will paint a pretty picture.  If nothing else, I want to impress that each of the three acts helped demonstrate the power of music and left me with a greater appreciation for their talent and efforts.

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Liam Gerner, the first act of the night, met an indifferent, half-full house, armed only with a guitar, an unforgiving spotlight, and a voice filled with great intonation and character. A native of Adelaide, Gerner maintains an address in London, but his itinerary makes it clear that he’s been a resident of the road for the past few years. With his shock of blonde curls, the growing herd of cowboy hats of House of Blues did not look to be Gerner’s target audience. However, perhaps bolstered by surviving Austin’s SXSW madness, Gerner shot the audience a measured glare and delivered a pleasingly raspy voice that was equally capable of filling the room with blues and alternative country. The man has opened for Drive By Truckers and Paul Weller, a resume that provides him with confidence and you with context to his stylings.

From a performance perspective, a telling moment was Gerner’s cover of a similarly coiffure-challenged crooner — Lyle Lovett. His rendition of “If I Had A Boat” managed to have a good portion of the crowd singing along. Do you dismiss that as crowd-catering or savvy song selection? If you’ve ever experienced the din of a Saturday night crowd at HOB getting its drink on, you know that crowd participation is no small accomplishment, let alone for an opening, solo artist. Good on you, Liam.

It’s a shame to not highlight an original song, so direct yourself to Liam Gerner’s myspace page and take a listen to “Dear Heart” and then “All We’ve Done”.

A stark contrast to Gerner’s minimalist performance, the second opener, The Silent Comedy, brought everything. The quintet exploded on stage with a presence that first requires a physical description.

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As confession of bias, I’ve been accused of being a clothes horse on occasion (yes, the term is horse, not whore, but I like the way you think). Even though I won’t argue that stereotype, I tend towards the conservative dress and stay away from “costume.” The Silent Comedy motif could easily be mocked as having walked off with the wardrobe from an Olde Time photo booth at your local amusement park. The range of vintage instruments, groomed mustaches and similarly attired merchandise booth staff helped impress a late 19th Century Western feel. This turned out to be no mere affection or novelty.  No distraction to the music; the costumes were a fitting commitment to their sound and a visual aide in transporting the crowd. The Silent Comedy didn’t simply capture what had become a full house, they demanded attention. In return, the crowd generated enough energy that the room seemed to bounce as one would only expect in the upstairs room of a cross-town venue.

The Silent Comedy present one of those interesting, cross-genre descriptions of indie, folk, rock and, to my mind, a convention-defying attitude that was once core to punk. They’ve toured with Mumford and Sons, Flogging Molly and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and I can easily believe how strong these pairings must have been for all concerned. At the risk of pissing off both fans and detractors for equally (in)valid reasons, The Silent Comedy brought the intensity of Blue October’s Justin with musicianship and songwriting of Justin Townes Earle. (Red and yellow make orange, remember?)

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[On a personal “open” note to Houston’s Mason Lankford and the Folk Family Revival, a local artist whose sound I was reminded of at moments: get some songs on your Facebook page.]

I’m tempted to ask you to play The Silent Comedy’s “Gasoline”, a song I’ve played repeatedly since Saturday, but it’s a song that demonstrates the entire band’s intensity and synchronization, and as such, should be properly showcased as a it was  on Saturday as a climatic moment in their set.  Save it and instead start with “Bartholomew” and imagine a sea of Stetson’s bobbing in a rocking rhythm. It was an evening of conversions and The Silent Comedy provided a rousing testimony. God bless and pass the biscuits.

With the oxygen temporarily sucked out of the room, the curtains closed and an extended stage setting allowed the packed, overly-enthused crowd a chance to catch their breath and reenergize. The delay made sense once Ryan Bingham was introduced to the stage while his supporting band, The Dead Horses, wandered on and got settled. Bingham opened with solo versions of “Dollar a Day” followed by “Depression” and the crowd began singing along almost immediately. His voice has traces of Bruce, if Bruce dipped or drank whiskey instead of beer, and Bingham’s songs weave a similar level of imagery.

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I admit to being late to the Bingham party. I missed the first two albums produced by former Black Crowes’ guitarist Marc Ford when they came out. However, I am a producer groupie and T Bone Burnett has long been a favorite. (His credits include: Delbert McClinton, BoDeans, Los Lobos, Orbison, Elvis Costello, Wallflowers, & …) After having Bingham on my “must see” list at ACL last summer, I walked away with some understanding of what the fuss was all about. I was disappointed when Bingham was robbed of his chance to perform “The Weary Kind” (the theme from Crazy Heart) at the 2010 Academy Awards, although I suppose sharing an Oscar & Golden Globe with Burnett helped soothe the pain.

Bingham brings a voice and songwriting that belies his sub-30 years. He has a presence that explains the crowd of women that would probably pay to watch him read the Congressional Report. His storytelling and songwriting make him an interesting performer for all.

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As a milestone, but in no way intended to establish Saturday’s high water mark, Bingham covered a Dylan tune. Hearing it outside of a coffee shop or a subway station, it would take a level of arrogance or foolishness to compare the cover and original. As a parallel, how many guitarists take on Jimi Hendrix and make it their own? Stevie Ray Vaughan? (I’m sure there are more, and I’d sincerely like the education, so please comment.) The point being, Bingham pulls it off. You recognize the song and appreciate Bingham’s own touch.

I did sense a dip in the energy from the stage a little late in Saturday’s set (not that the crowd seemed to care, dancing – yes, dancing – full steam ahead), but I’m not certain that it wasn’t intended in order to draw the audience in a bit more. It’s possible I simply couldn’t be surprised anymore on a Saturday. It was a night of great performances, unexpected discoveries, and in the case of Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses, pleasantly met expectations.

I can’t say that I rushed home to listen to Bingham’s albums after the show, but that’s not meant with any negativity towards his talent or his performance. He simply made it look too easy.

Liam Gerner

http://www.myspace.com/liamgerner
http://www.facebook.com/LiamGerner
http://twitter.com/#!/liamgerner

The Silent Comedy
http://www.facebook.com/SilentComedyMusic
http://thesilentcomedy.com
http://www.myspace.com/thesilentcomedy

Ryan Bingham
http://www.facebook.com/RyanBinghamandTheDeadHorses
http://www.binghammusic.com/
http://www.myspace.com/ryanbingham
http://www.twitter.com/RyanBingham
http://www.youtube.com/ryanbingham

Words and photos by Alexander Flenner at House of Blues Houston

Additional pictures found at: www.flennerfoto.com

— Alexander

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