David Ryan Harris at the Highline Ballroom

Ported from unrivaledglory.com

The Highline Ballroom 2/21/10

David Ryan Harris/N’Dambi

This Monday passed, Jim, Felicia and I decided to do something age appropriate and attend a show on a school night. I’m not sure how we got the intell, but we scored some tickets for David Ryan Harris, singer/songwriter/talent-cash-in-er, do a solo acoustic set while we got just drunk enough to be excellently hilarious.

I keep forgetting the Highline exists. This is not so much me being a terrible New Yorker as a very forgetful one. Back in the day I made my pretension bones on the New Yorker Passport to the Arts event, and later was more involved when my current employer was a leading sponsor. So to recap: I spent a lot of time thinking about the Highline but have yet to check out the apparently very nifty park that they’ve built up there.

So you could imagine my surprise when we exited Chelsea Market after dinner (at Friedman’s—totally awesome freaking burger. Nothing makes me happier than pink/clear juice running down my arm with a microbrew to wash it down), walked half a block and I looked up and said, “Oh yeah–the Highline.” To be clear: I was totally aware that I was going to a place called the Highline Ballroom. It’s just… you forget that there’s shit built into the motherfucker.

Anyway. Having never been to the Highline Ballroom, it hadn’t even occurred to me to start thinking about what to expect. I knew there was going to be table service, but that was about it. Upon entering you get the feeling that THIS is what they were going for when Webster Hall was… left to rot I guess. Same decor aesthetic, way less rapey-ness. You know what I mean, red velvet, black counters, coat check, fat bouncer. The usual.

We were seated by an attractive Tisch Drama major at a pretty good table next to the bar, which did nothing for getting us our drinks any faster. You know how long it takes to pour a vodka on the rocks? It’s quicker than the 90 seconds it takes to properly pour a Guinness. Which is why I ordered it. At the Highline Ballroom, with Blonde “I’m Auditioning for ‘Gringa 1’ In The Touring Cast of In the Heights” Waitress slingin’ my distilled spirits, it took ten minutes to prepare three vodkas on the rocks. I watched. ‘Cause we were right next to the bar.  They had a myriad of tasty-sounding cocktails that probably would have gotten us ripped and, for New York, weren’t that expensive, but we didn’t get them because we were thirsty, dammit. We needed liquid refreshment.

We might as well have just gotten them.

The opener was N’Dambi, a singer/songwriter with a soul-sista hairdo and a cholo-lookin’ asian guitarist (who was really the highlight of the set). I didn’t really enjoy her set so I’m not going to dwell on it except to say the following:

At some point in this woman’s life back in Texas, someone told her that she was a great storyteller, that she had something to offer the world. I’m here to tell her that her stories were just okay and she needs voice lessons. It was obvious that she was dipping into low registers because she either couldn’t or didn’t know how to belt higher-register glissandos. With that critique out of the way, it was sort of clear that the story and the groove were the important thing, and like I said, she was, like, fifty percent successful.

David Ryan Harris, on the other hand, gave a performance that was just the bee’s knees. I’ll be honest; I wasn’t some huge DRH fan (or a fan of the Singer/Songwriter genre as a whole… I’m a bassist, I get bored when there’s no rhythm section to entertain me) where I had to go search him out. A friend of Jim’s told us he was playing, we bought tickets on a whim—you can’t argue with 15 dollars—and went. My only connection to him before that night was as the rhythm guitarist in John Mayer’s touring band where he’s been since 2003 (I want to guess that this is when he started touring with a full band but I’m not going to go searching for that now. Lord only knows what sort of tangent that would send me on). By the way, that’s what I meant by “cashing in” in the first graf. His solo career has spanned two decades, but his allmusic profile points to some really illustrious gigs with DMB and Santana. Additionally, he’s piggybacking his solo tour on top of John Mayer’s US tour. Genius. Yeah, fuck you too, Columbia Records. With John Mayer, he just rips the fuck out of everything—he’s a MONSTER sideman—perhaps to the point where I couldn’t picture him taking the spotlight.

To utilize a cliché: whoa-boy was I wrong.

DRH was funny, amicable, and his voice was in perfect form. His songs were heartfelt and tongue-in-cheek while being intellectually stimulating on a harmonic-level. His sense of time and groove is flawless. I watched him keep the beat to a song that started with his foot tapping, and it stayed that way the entire time. The one didn’t move.

There need to be more guitarists like that.

He was joined on bass by Sean Hurley of Robin Thicke and Vertical Horizon fame(?). Remember Vertical Horizon? Surrree you do. Peep the Jon Faveau-lookin’ guitarist and Kelly Kapowski.

Yeah, dude’s playing is tasty.

There is something that I’m struggling with, on a meta-I-love-music-level: talky singers. I’ve been in bands with them, seen others play, and the two singer/songwriters presented here are examples of such. Some people like it while others hate it with a passion. You know of whom I speak: there’s a two-minute introduction to every song giving you the background story and pointing out every nuance. This ruins it for me. It’s like a comedian explaining the punch line to their well-crafted joke. Specifically, it’d be like Zach Galifinakis looking up from the piano, staring into the audience and saying, “You realize this isn’t who I am right? This whole overwrought piano-playing-non-sequitur bit is just… well, it’s just a gag. So please, don’t think ill of me, and by all means, please don’t feel bad about laughing. I’m doing it on purpose.”

I mean, I’m sure that’s an actual bit he does, but… you know, bear with me here.

When I’m subjected to this knee-jerk, (in the case of N’dambi) apparently unrehearsed story-time, it suggest two things to me: The performer is uncomfortable on stage and is trying to center themselves and they aren’t confident in either the audience to get it, or their ability to convey the meaning of their “Art”. Either way, people only complain when the performer is bad at it, because honestly, there are those that are really, really good at it or use the time-filler to good effect.

For instance, if someone in the band or the singer themselves are tuning and it’s taking forever, a story is absolutely necessary. Otherwise everyone is just watching some dude spend a minute and a half trying to tune to open A minor and it is incredibly boring—but not more boring than a shitty story about shoe shopping. At least then we could gauge how good the guitarist’s ear is. This is really the only time that a story is absolutely necessary, because otherwise your accompanist is sitting there, very uncomfortably. I promise. I’ve been there.

That said, David Ryan Harris did a fantastic job telling stories. He freaking retuned after every song so he had to be. But no matter what they were about—lying, cheating, love, imperfection—all of his stories and songs intertwined gracefully. They were also all about his wife… I think.

There’s probably a lesson there. Ruminate on that for a while.


About chris

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