He tore his shirt open during the penultimate song of his opening set for Koe Wetzel at LA’s Novo theater last month.
And now he’s a fixture in my drive-time musical rotation… not because of half-shirtless Mike Ryan, per se, but because of what half-shirtless Mike Ryan represents.
“Dude has confidence!” I yelled to my wife during the show.
The Great Shirt-Unbuttoning was Mike Ryan’s exclamation point during a set where he was clearly a Performer with a capital P. Mike worked that stage on the doorstep of Hollywood, very far from his native Texas, like he played there every night. Everything about Mike Ryan and band was big. Big voice. Big crew. Big beard and big chest. Even a big fiddler in Jerry Reynolds, whose Popeye forearms plucked what seemed like a comically tiny instrument at times.
He and his band, conspicuously comfortable on-stage, had an LA crowd rocking and thoroughly warmed-up (and sauced-up) for Koe. And if not for this year’s return to live music, I might not have known what I was missing out here on the West Coast.
Mike Ryan has been a popular act in the Texas country scene for close to a decade now. But like so many of his contemporaries from the lone star state, perhaps Ryan’s time has come to grow more national appeal. I, for one, arrived as a stumbling member of the Koe Wetzel Hordeat an intimate show to kick off the West Coast portion of Koe’s tour. But I left a big Mike Ryan guy.
His effortless, booming vocals certainly come across on the three studio albums he released in the 2010’s. But when you’re listening on your headphones, the outdoor portable speaker, or even blasting it in your car (my personal favorite, naturally, as a car-loving Angeleno), you can’t hear the swag of a great performer.
But now, thanks to my memories from that show, I can.
When I hear songs like “Red Eye Flight,” “New Hometown,” “Damn Good Goodbye,” “Other Side of the Radio,” or “The Rewrite,” I’m back in that small room with the big presence of Mike Ryan. His songs are lively, epic, and highly singable. And that’s exactly what I do when I’m stuck somewhere in LA traffic these days.
With a new single, “Die Runnin,’”dropping next Friday, September 16th, ahead of the October 28th release of his first album in five years, “Longcut,” I might even have enough sing-able tunes for a weekend family road trip before long.
Time to warn the kids, and the streets of Los Angeles, that when Mike Ryan comes on the stereo, I’ll be taking a mental trip back to The Novo, trying to keep pace with Mike’s big voice at the top of my lungs.
And don’t be surprised if my shirt flies open at some point when I really get into character.