September 27, 2012
The Fonda Theatre, Los Angeles
I think I am still recovering from last night’s show at The Fonda, physically, vocally, and most significantly, emotionally. Seeing Ryan Bingham perform last night was an incredible experience, one that both expanded in that nearly larger than life rock and roll power kind of way, and contracted into something of a stripped down to the raw core intense vulnerability way. To say I was moved by the music would be an enormous understatement, as I was beyond moved. I was rocked and rolled, pushed and pulled, spun around, torn up a little, heart shattered a little more, way turned on and unbelievably blown away.
Let me pause for a moment though, and rewind to before Ryan and his fantastic band graced us with their music on stage. Plucked from the surrounding neighborhoods, the opening band, Los Angeles’ own La Santa Cecilia, was an unexpected delight. The opening song was a gut-punching, tear your heart out, Patsy Cline type of number that took the audience’s collective breaths away as they had started to fill in the floor at the Fonda Theatre. The first number they performed reminded me of the Llorando scene in David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive. The lead singer, Marisoul, welcomed the crowd after blowing us away with that first song, letting us know that the remaining music we were about to hear would be a little bit of everything, and boy was she right. From alt-pop covers of Tainted Love and U2’s One, to original songs that genre-hopped between bossa nova, tango, traditional Latin, to 50’s style be-bop, La Santa Cecilia were a fantastic hybrid of sound and culture that felt indicative of Los Angeles itself. I will definitely be writing about this band again, in further detail, and sharing their music, so stay tuned.
After the fun and fabulous opening band, the crowd continued to fill-in to the historic 1920’s theatre. The people converging all-around were a wide array of styles and generations, a little bit of the young Hollywood crowd, a little bit of hitchhiked through the desert grit and grime, some ironic-facial hair and country clothed hipsters, a touch of the older and wiser music fan, and a dash of enthusiastic youth. I love gigs that attract a cross-section of the city itself, and this was definitely one of those shows. Ryan’s music seems to have quite a long-reaching musical attraction.
To pick a defining song, or moment, from last night’s show would be impossible. To even recall the exact order the songs were shared with us would not be possible either, because somewhere in all of it I got so incredibly swept up and lost in the music, and the experience of the music, that it became one momentous cacophony of sounds and musically told stories. So, instead I will talk about some of my favorite happenings of the night.
Western Shore delivered its powerful, life affirming message, with Ryan’s gritty, world weary yet hopeful vocals within the soaring band that lifted the music and thrust it out into the room, causing a chill-inducing pulse that started from the ground up, and working its way throughout my body. The passion that seemed to bleed out of Ryan’s vocals and guitar rollicked its way through the crowd causing a pounding of feet, a pushing forward of bodies, and an electrical current that buzzed in the air; all of it together seemed to pull all of us in the audience closer together, and closer, in turn, to the music. This song last night gave me a jolt of belief in just about everything in my life, its inspirational impact felt almost religious.
One of the most moving moments of the night was Never Far Behind. Ryan introduced the song by saying it was for his parents, and as the song progressed the emotional vulnerability and raw honesty of the lyrics swept over me, and then the tears came. Reflecting back as I write this, the tears come again.
There was so much to relate to in the performance of this song, and so much to feel, and completely understand. There was a moment, towards the end, when Ryan was literally pounding on his guitar and watching that, experiencing it, made it so that I could barely breathe. The emotions, the realness of it all, it was overwhelming and fucking beautiful. I have the utmost respect for Ryan as an artist, a storyteller, a performer and a person after witnessing this song live.
There were moments last night where the music broke me, shattered pieces of my heart, and then managed to somehow patch me back together, and heal me, as well. Never Far Behind was one of those moments, and I am still shaken up some by it, and I am still in awe a lot by it, as well.
Hallelujah was an early favorite song of mine, and one I had hoped Ryan would play last night. First off, I feel that I need to convey that his live performance of this song far exceeded my love of the album recording of the song. The power and passion in the delivery of it last night was incredible. It felt as if the room shrank while the song’s story unfolded, an illusion that one was sitting in a darkened bar, whiskey poured generously, whilst your drinking partner sat close by on your right speaking to you of their life stories. The telling, rough and ragged and brilliantly real, was not cluttered by the weight of regret or over-sentimentality, but instead was a relatable, down-to-earth and down on one’s luck picture of life that is so familiar to me. The line “it’s just a song” felt like a reaction to Leonard Cohen’s famous Hallelujah, as if to say, like life, the importance is enormous and miniscule all at once, as it is just a life, as it is just a song; we listen, we live, we are moved, but it is all just the contents of another day.
Flower Bomb was one of my initial favorites off of Ryan’s new album Tomorrowland, so I was thrilled when the opening chords were played. The winding story of emotional strife and economic hardship is heart pounding and breaking, full of blood (“blood left on the stage”, as the lyrics suggest), and the sweat and tears, were unforgettable, especially performed with just Ryan and an acoustic guitar. Again, the room seemed to shrink, and for the length of that song I truly felt as if it was just Ryan playing and singing, and me there listening. That kind of losing oneself completely in the music is a feeling I live for, and one that is not all that common during a live show. From the reactions of those around me, I am quite sure they were feeling that intimate, one-on-one connection, as well. I know I said it before, but last night was truly awe-inspiring.
Guess Who’s Knockin’ was one of the notable powerhouse moments of the night, a raucous and rowdy expletive coated explosive song that was admittedly quite a turn on moment, for me. I have a penchant for the word “fuck” when sung with a certain power and intensity, and Ryan most certainly has miles of both. As mentioned earlier with Hallelujah, the performance of Guess Who’s Knockin’ live overtook the already brilliant power of the album recording on Tomorrowland. It was aggressive feeling, seething with anger, and teeming with sensuality; the band, along with Ryan, were without a doubt, fucking hot (expletive intended), in this song.
The audience’s reaction, and connection, to Bread and Water was enthralling to be amidst. Call-outs and exclamations of joy when certain cities were mentioned, and the (again) almost religious fervor in the “shit yeah’s” that followed certain lyrical lines sung, was amazing to witness. There were couples dancing, fans offering up shots of whiskey that Ryan had asked for, feet stomping, hands clapping, and voices rising in screams, and in sing-a-longs. Everyone was all in, totally and completely.
Audience response to one of the two encore numbers, the gorgeous South Side of Heaven, was also incredible, and was as moving as the song itself. This song was one whose name had been yelled out in request multiple times during the show, which I am sure added to the enthusiasm when it was performed. The harmonica-playing, guitar with a cigarette stuck in with the strings strumming Ryan was breathtaking during this number. Every word sung seemed to carry a million of their own stories while being tucked into the over-arching story of the song itself. The way it felt to hear, was like being lost within the dreamy aftermath that comes after rolling around in the rumpled sheets with a lover, heart still beating fast, breath still hitching slightly in your chest, and the glow of love and lust circling the space around your body. If I had not quit smoking a few months back I would have wanted to light up right after this song, as soon as the lights went on and it was time to go. Instead I just emitted a long, slow sigh.
What a way to end the night.
If you get the chance during this tour, or any one that follows, do yourself a favor and go see Ryan Bingham play live. As much as I tried to do the show justice in words here in this review, it still does not adequately express what last night was like for me. As I have mentioned, I am still a little bit awe-struck. Thank you, Ryan and band, for an incredible show.