Concert Review: Ryan Bingham and the Dead Horses, Ogden Theatre, 2/25/11

It’s Ryan Bingham, right? He’s got that nice low raspy busted-down voice, he writes killer lyrics, and he regularly deploys a bottle slide. All of these things are keys to my heart. I don’t know much of his catalog, so when we showed up at the Ogden, we found a corner to stand in close to the front, and engaged in a little crowd-watching while Bingham and the Dead Horses did their thing.

The first two-thirds of that show was a group therapy session for victims of the recession. The songs are heavy on the following things: being poor, West Texas, enjoying marijuana, drinking whiskey, and coping with hard times. And the crowd was really into it. The PBR flowed. The people danced. The people also pulled out their lighters. The people had a good time.

Still, there were some weird things: Bingham’s up there singing about being poor and coping with hard times, and meanwhile the Ogden has a couple of sections reserved for VIP areas — prime seats in the balcony, mostly — that stayed pretty much empty during a sold-out show that they had already moved from a smaller venue several more blocks down East Colfax due to popular demand. More bizarre, though, was the event staff busting audience members for lighting up. I’ve never seen that happen at a show in Denver or Boulder, and neither had the friend I went with. Pot is just part of how shows go here, and event staff looks the other way. Except tonight — and Bingham’s guitar tech was helping bust the smokers. We could see him pointing out the offenders from the stage. There was such a blatant disconnect between the lyrical content and what was going on around us that it was next to impossible to get into things.

It didn’t help that Bingham produces weaker live work when he’s backed by the Dead Horses. His rasp works against him when he’s struggling to be heard over his plugged-in backup musicians. When that’s combined with the band’s lackluster output during instrumental breaks — nobody up there seemed to have the chops to bust out an impressive riff, or if they did, they elected not to show us — I leaned over and asked my friend why we came again.

We found out at the first encore, which Bingham did entirely by himself, acoustic. We could finally hear the quiet, honest brilliance that made me pause the KGSR compilation I first heard him on so I could start the song over again and pay real attention. It was an entirely different show once Bingham played by himself, and one I liked a lot better than the first part.

Some artists maybe you just shouldn’t hear live. Bingham seems to work better for me in the studio; your mileage may vary. Still, I’d love to see him at a smaller venue, or at least a less beer-soaked venue, playing solo. The show I saw was decent, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. He’s worth your time and money, but be prepared for the Dead Horses portion of the program.

I also want to thank the man who made room for the two women standing next to us so they could get away from the seven-foot-tall guy who rubbed his rear end on anything that held still for more than a second. Seven-foot-tall guy was pretty clearly impacting their enjoyment of the show (and mine, for that matter), and making room like that, and asking them if they wanted to move over and away, is the kind of behavior that keeps women like me going to shows. Well played, sir.

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