If you’ve lived in Asheville for any amount of time, and you’re at all involved in the music scene here, you’ve heard of Tyler Ramsey. Maybe you’ve seen him play in local bands like the Tyler Ramsey Trio, DrugMoney or Hollywood Red. Or maybe you had the good fortune to catch a few of those acoustic solo shows at the French Broad Brewery. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of Tyler, he’s most well known as the lead guitarist for the popular indie rock group, Band of Horses; you may have seen him on Letterman, or in Rolling Stone magazine this year, not realizing he had previously been a staple of Asheville’s local music scene.
Due to the touring and recording schedule with Band of Horses, we don’t see him around town as often these days, but he returns for a much anticipated annual Thanksgiving solo show at the Grey Eagle — this year’s was on Nov. 18.
Before the music started, the stage was anything but empty. It was packed with seven guitars on stands (including two 12-strings and a very cool vintage-looking hollow-body electric) a rack of pedals and two electronic boxes that were unveiled during the set as a drum machine and a vocal processor. The night began with Joshua Carpenter on an acoustic guitar and vocals. It would be a very hard thing to open up for Ramsey, and when he finished his short set, he joked ironically, “Really guys, stick around for Tyler Ramsey.”
Ramsey walked on stage and picked up a parlor-style guitar, plugged it in and launched into a dreamy version of the instrumental “Birdwings,” hypnotizing the crowd with his fluid finger-picking style. Early in his set, Ramsey told the crowd he was battling a cold, and that he was going to try out some new songs. The disclaimer was unnecessary as his singing was spot-on, if slightly scratchy at times, and no one seemed to mind being guinea pigs to the new material. The stand out song was one he said he had written about his grandmother. He cranked up the vocal processor and on the choruses he sang into a second vocal mic that produced what sounded like five-part harmony. It was very M. Ward-ish, adding a depth and build to a song that was already lyrically and melodically gorgeous.
At times it seemed like all the gadgets on stage overwhelmed Ramsey a bit. The drum machine quit mid-song at one point and he said, “That wasn’t supposed to happen …” and kept right on. Switching instruments between each song, and fiddling with the electronics disrupted some of the flow, but his easy stage presence and witty banter kept everyone feeling comfortable and anticipating what would come next.
Towards the end of the night, Ramsey pulled up a kick drum beat on the drum machine, and performed “A Long Dream,” which probably got the strongest crowd response of the night, being the title track to his 2008 solo release. With rumors of a second solo album in the works, and a re-issue of A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea, Tyler Ramsey fans have much to look forward to.