The cold, hard and unfortunate truth about local music is that there aren’t a lot of musicians out there making a regular living playing their own stuff night after night. While there are a couple of bands that make enough from shows and album sales for its members to call “musician” their full-time occupation, the vast majority of the capital city’s music makers have day jobs somewhere else to pay the rent. However, there are a few who have managed to strike a kind of truce between their passions and their bills. These noble souls split time between playing shows of their original work and taking gigs as commercial musicians, offering a steady string of cover songs for weddings, dinner functions and random bar dates.
It’s hard work, these gigs. For starters, there’s the sheer volume. On this particular night at the Underground, James Biehn is on the schedule for four hours. Even with breaks, that’s still 180 minutes of playing music for a crowd that’s going to pay him the most cursory of attention. In the first hour of his set, Biehn tackles everything from Oasis to Neon Trees to Led Zeppelin. The trick is to play stuff that’s familiar. For the artist, it can get a little numbing.
“Occasionally I’ll throw in something interesting,” Biehn said between sets. “I’ll play the occasional Dawes cover, just to remind myself that I have a soul.”
But even when he’s playing stuff that isn’t his, Biehn is something to behold. He’s an impeccable guitarist who’s blessed with a voice that can deliver an abundance of emotion, if not range. You can catch him playing original music as well (he performs at Wooly’s this weekend), but even if he’s only playing covers, listening to Biehn perform is something music lovers owe to themselves. CV