Ryan Bingham on St. Patrick's Day at First Avenue, 3/17/13

Ryan Bingham on St. Patrick's Day at First Avenue, 3/17/13

Ryan Bingham
with honeyhoney
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Sunday, March 17, 2013

Ryan Bingham has one of the best voices in music today. It's full of originality and character, roughened by years on the road and with a heartbreaking edge to it. It's Bingham's voice that made "The Weary Kind" the powerful Academy Award/Golden Globe Award/Grammy-winning song that it was. It's the kind of voice that will stop you in your tracks, turn your head, and go, "What is that?"

See Also:
Ryan Bingham: I kinda miss the spontaneity of my rodeo days

Unfortunately, Bingham's voice was somewhat overshadowed last night at his show at First Avenue by the aggressive playing featured on the tracks from his new album Tomorrowland, which dominated the setlist. The talented singer-songwriter came out swinging with set opener "Guess Who's Knocking" (backed, noted many audience members, by a band that was not his Dead Horses), and it was all furious electric guitar, fiddle playing, and drum blasting from there.

To be fair, Bingham's heaviest new songs -- "Guess Who's Knocking," "Heart Of Rhythm," "I Heard 'Em Say" -- sounded much better live than on the album. While the most rocking tracks sometimes fall flat on record, in a live setting, Bingham gives them a Texas Roadhouse treatment that had the (rather thin) Sunday night crowd roused and rowdy. If the audience had come to the show expected more "Weary Kind"-esque acoustics and sensitivity, Bingham was going to hold out on them as long as possible. No one seemed to mind, as Bingham was determined to keep the energy high.

Midset, Bingham did reel things in a bit, with stirring solo acoustic takes on "Boracho Station" from his debut Mescalito and "Hallelujah" off of Junky Star.

"I learned how to play the guitar when I was in Texas, on the border of Mexico," said Bingham, alluding to his early days as a rodeo bullrider. "A guy taught me how to play this mariachi song here. Let me see if I've got enough talent left to play it..."

It was at that moment, for the first time in the evening, that Bingham's talent was de-camouflaged for all to see and admire. The delicate, deft strumming on "Boracho Station" and the tender-harsh lyricism of "Hallelujah" are forever the aces in Bingham's pocket, and if he's got gems like those, well, he can probably do whatever he wants for the first half-dozen songs.

The second half of the set focused on electrified versions of older tunes, with Bingham bringing out his talented opening band honeyhoney to close with him on "Bread & Water," finishing with what Bingham called a "proper ho-down." Bingham saved "The Weary Kind" for his encore, and performed it again with a solo acoustic guitar, the way it's meant to be heard. The show ended on a strong note, and it seemed that no matter what version of Bingham you came looking for, he delivered some part of it.

Critic's Bias: Well, I just love me some sensitive alt-folk-indie-rock-new-country stuff. And Bingham's voice is like balm for my weary soul. But Tomorrowland was not my favorite album of his, and I was wondering what this show would be like.

The Crowd: A few cowboy hats in the front row (be still, my secret country heart!), and a lot of people looking to have a good time. Also a few leprechaun hats.

Overheard In The Crowd: "You ain't that good lookin'," said my concert companion jokingly after Bingham's first song -- meaning that he wasn't particularly gripped by the electrified country rock.

Random Notebook Dump: This is one of the first times I've thought to myself, "Wow, First Avenue is just not the right venue for this." Bingham's crowd would have done much better at the Turf Club, where the whiskey-ho-down energy would have fit much better.

Notebook Pt. II: Openers honeyhoney were just great. Highly recommended "new country" band--lead singer Suzanne Sato has a voice that Nashville would die for, that would shame Taylor Swift right out of her cowboy boots. I'll be looking for them next time they come through town.

Setlist: Feel free to leave corrections in the comments section.

Guess Who's Knocking
Heart Of Rhythm
Tell My Mama I Miss Her
I Heard 'Em Say
Day Is Done
Boracho Station - acoustic
Hallelujah - acoustic
Beg For Broken Legs
Western Shore
Southside Of Heaven
Bread & Water
The Weary Kind
Too Deep To Fill

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