On the drive over to the Fillmore in Silver Spring on Wednesday, one could easily find themselves transported back in time to an era where Jack The Ripper stalked every corner. The fog – undoubtedly a product of the great thaw after our historic blizzard – completely changed the landscape of the city to something unrecognizable. So it was only fitting that once Ryan Bingham started playing I was equally transported to a completely different location altogether.
Bingham opened with a bang, rocking out to “Dollar A Day” wasting no time getting the crowd energized. Immediately people to the left of me, decked out in cowboy hats and a healthy dose of southern charm, busted into a rodeo and other dancing. Bingham is most simply categorized as country, but there isn’t any farce in his music. When the man sings, he speaks to his audience, and identifies with them, instead of simply pandering to them. As I said, country is the simplest categorization – the easiest. Bingham has a healthy dose of Red Dirt, Americana, and good ol’ fashioned Rock N’ Roll. I’ve seen several country bands where the theme is cheap beer, loose women, and broken pickups, and it’s all delivered knowingly to an audience ready to eat it up. Once a musician told the audience “Most of y’all in DC are used to drinking this fancy beer like Stella Artois (pronounced Artwaah). But me, I’m right at home with a Shiner Boch.” Cue the audience cheer. Refreshingly, Bingham isn’t that kind of performer.
Of course, Bingham is as good as those around him, and he clearly has an eye for talent. Whether it’s the old guy who can tear things up with the best of them on the fiddle, or the younger man standing adjacent to Bingham and absolutely shredding it on the guitar, the entire act functions with a well-honed edge and charm that screams an authenticity and cohesion that is identifiable and that most country acts might struggle to deliver.
Ryan Bingham showed his range though slowing down and speeding things right back up again, sometimes in the exact same song. A standout of the night was his cover of The Pogues “Thousands Are Sailing” towards the end of the night. He perfectly adapts the Pogues Irish folk-rock sensibilities into something wholly unique yet familiar. (It was a damn good cover.) When he sings “and we dance” and the fiddle kicks in, you’re treated to something special.
Bingham’s voice is just the right bit of gravelly to be unique but still able to hit the important notes. But he can hold his own on guitar. (Though like any good musician he knows when to let the better musicians have the spotlight.) And he wasn’t shy about rocking the harmonica either during the night.
Bingham was born in New Mexico and currently is based in Los Angeles, so it should speak to his quality as a singer and storyteller that he still nails the Texas vibe with an authenticity others go about getting through different ways. The hits such as “Southside of Heaven” and “Hallelujah” were predictable standouts (but for this Irish punk-rock loving author, the cover of The Pogues stole the show).
As I took in the special performance I was witness to, I took time to examine the audience around me. It was one of the rare concerts where everybody seemed to be on the exact same page. Couples all around took to dancing, men in cowboy hats whooped when appropriate, and people were cheering loudly, seemingly without the assistance of alcohol. It was a refreshingly great crowd to be at, and the Fillmore as always with it’s great sound system delivered another winning concert experience.
So next time you’re dismayed by the state of country music, or pop country as I think of it, just know there are great artists like Bingham out there who are still fighting to good fight. Country isn’t about loose women and pickup trucks. It’s an authentic and American art form, and acts like Bingham’s get that.