Ryan Bingham revitalized the crowd at a sold-out Madrid Theatre last night

Ryan Bingham with Bird Dog
Madrid Theatre
Sunday, January 24

Deep in his heart of hearts, in spite of his black cowboy hat and “born in ‘em” boots, Ryan Bingham is a rocker. His music has plenty of country edges (and so do his fans), and his voice still carries 14 pounds of New Mexico grit in every syllable. That just gives him the perfect growl for big songs, delivered loudly, with the depth of a Sangre de Christo night. 

Bingham kicked off this show with “Dollar A Day,” the most country song of the evening, and it set the mood for an evening of tunes about struggling through pitfalls and coming out on the other side. He slipped immediately into the “Top Shelf Drug,” an almost-lurid anthem of love and one of a handful of tunes from his new album Fear and Saturday Night. (The next song, the old-timey “Tell My Mother I Miss Her,” still carried over some of that slipperiness and ooze.) That mood broke, temporarily, with “Broken-Hearted Tattoos,” a sweet song written for his seven-month-old daughter. The song bravely invites her to not “ be shy of your wilder side, or be afraid to let loose/with broken-heart tattoos.” It’s a father’s version of “I Hope You Dance,” and it’s courageous as hell.

One of the show’s peaks was “Bluebird,” a song that, like Bingham’s voice, was both gentle and abraded, with his tattered singing over dissonant guitars. With the possible exception of a surprisingly hopeful, mandolin-driven version of “Atlantic City,” “Bluebird” was the most Springsteen moment of the show.

Without fiddler Richard Bowden, the show would have had a different flavor. In a black fedora that added swing to Bingham’s Stetson, Bowden cut loose on fiddle with the confidence and volume of a lead guitarist. Whether he was turning “Tell My Mother I Miss Her” into a straight up Irish reel or taking a solo that felt every bit as urgent as lead guitarist Daniel Sproul’s own fiery, lick-laden leads. Bowden and Sproul’s dual leads (and they did it a lot) had the sound of a live Lynyrd Skynrd breakdown — and sudden flashes of a fiddle bow did nothing to break the spell.

Bingham’s set closed with a trilogy of “I might just get through this” tunes that the crowd knew by heart: “Hard Times” (not the Stephen Foster tune, but every bit as genuine), “Sunrise” (about asking the new day to somehow pick up the pieces) and “Hallelujah.” As Bingham drifted back onstage for a solo acoustic encore, his smile was the first light onstage, and the dusty ballad “The Poet” and autobiographical “Nobody Knows My Trouble” still seemed big. The band rejoined him for “Sunshine,” and Bingham’s slide guitar was the highlight of an absolute wall of sound for what has to be the most greasy slab of bluesy optimism ever.

Bingham’s theme of broken people finding shards of hope amid the busted pieces of their lives was part in every song, including “Bread and Water,” a travelogue of Bingham’s past. The show wasn’t fancy — five guys rockin’ their guts out — but it was real. Bingham did the impossible, sending a few hundred people happy people off to face a January Monday with a smile.

Leftovers: Bird Dog, a five-piece band from L.A., warmed things up with more intimate tunes featuring four-part harmonies, a splash of percussion (including floor toms), a new variation on the new-folk sound. Their set — a blend of Crosby, Stills & Nash and ‘80s power pop — was an updated, up-tempo version of the ’60s Laurel Canyon era and a nice surprise at the beginning of the night. 


Dollar A Day
Top Shelf Drug
Tell My Mother I Miss Her
Broken Heart Tattoos
Dylan’s Hard Rain 
Ghost of Travelin’ Jones
Atlantic City (Bruce Springsteen Cover)
Country Roads
My Diamond Is Too Rough
Hard Times
The Poet
Nobody Knows My Trouble
Bread and Water

Categories: Music