“Devin Bing and the Secret Service”
Metropolitan Room – June 13, July 18, August 15
A party atmosphere filled the room as young Devin Bing, grooving to the driving intro music, danced onto the stage of the Metropolitan Room, kissing and patting the backs of people in the audience along the way, his band, the Secret Service (electric guitarist, bassist, drummer), fully immersed in a funk onslaught. When Bing reached center stage, he threw a keytar over his neck and shoulder and the band quieted as he accompanied himself meditatively singing the opening verse to “Angel Eyes” (Earl Brent, Matt Dennis). This contemplative mood didn’t last long, however. Bing’s name was announced and the band jumped back into action, turning the song into a full-fledged rock anthem, heavy on the electric guitar. Bing introduced the band and added an overdose of vocal riffing and even a repeated, paraphrased lyric: “Have fun you people, the drink’s on me!”
Somewhere in all of this, which seemed more apt for an arena, the meaning of the song was thrown out the window. The song’s seductive subtlety and edge were lost.
Bing’s show consisted of two sections: four well-known standards, which were given “creative” instrumental arrangements that did not necessarily serve the lyric, and then several of his own compositions. At one point, Bing told the audience that he grew up listening to jazz standards from a young age “while the other kids were listening to NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys,” and he mentioned that it was mainly the jazz instrumentalists who grabbed his attention, so he thought of his voice “as more of an instrument thansomeone just singing songs” [emphasis mine].
These phrases are key to understanding who Bing is as an artist. First, I would bet Bing listened to those boy bands more than he admitted, because his vocal style closely resembles that of NSYNC-er Justin Timberlake, with its pleasing light tenor and blue-eyed soul riffing. Even Bing’s eyes, though darker, bear a slight resemblance to those of his famous counterpart. But while Timberlake has carved out a niche for himself in pop music, Bing’s Timberlake-does-jazz routine is like wearing hipness on his sleeve, but with an ill-fitting jacket. He has even adopted a nuanced Southern accent not unlike one of the idols he mentioned, Harry Connick Jr., and I’m betting that Bing is not a southerner.
Second, his comment about “just singing songs” gave us a glimpse of where his loyalties lie. During many extended instrumental breaks in songs, he turned to the band to enjoy a private jam session. Doing this once or twice in a show is fine, but when it becomes habit, it breaks the mood established by the lyric and the audience is left out. For him, singing is more about making pleasing sounds rather than becoming emotionally invested in the words.
That being said, Bing does have a facile vocal instrument and one of his gimmicks that worked very well was imitating a trumpet during an extended solo of “My Funny Valentine” (Rodgers & Hart). It’s all done with a closed-mouth hum, like a ventriloquist, and the sound is rather miraculous. At the piano, he has an exquisitely light touch on the keys. He also has a lively stage presence, and when he chats with the audience and is a little less “on”, he demonstrates kind of a goofy, self-deprecating charm.
Bing’s best moment, for which he was rewarded the biggest ovation from the audience, came, interestingly enough, when he stepped out of jazz mode and sat at the piano to sing his pop ballad, “Be Alright.” Stripped of all the layers of sound, Bing allowed us a peek into his private self, and his voice soared with heartbreak and determination.
As for his own songs, which made up about two-thirds of the show, they were stronger in melody than in lyric. While sometimes offering a catchy melodic hook, lyrics such as “I’m so happy you’re my baby/I’m so happy to call you my own/And you should know everything about you is beautiful” (“I’m So Happy”) and “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do/I would even die for you, over and over/I do it for your love, your love, your love” (“You Got Me”) lack originality and excitement. It’s not enough to let the melody do all the heavy lifting.
Before his encore, he closed with another song, “Shaken Not Stirred,” from his upcoming album. Even Bing acknowledged that this one had silly words, but he managed to get the audience to participate in a call-and-response with the lyric, “Shake, shake, shake it like you don’t care/Shake it like a cocktail!” It ended the show on an energetic note, just as it had begun.
Bing’s capable and fun-loving band included Gavi Grodsky on guitar, Michael Feinberg on bass, and Blaise Lanzetta on drums. Devin Bing gets points for style, energy and expert musicianship, but he has more work to do with lyric interpretation (and writing) and deeper emotional connection to the material. The talent is there but the vulnerability is not—he should aim for our hearts and not the flashy surface sensations we’ve become accustomed to in our digitalized world. He’s young and still has time to live up to his potential.
About the Author
Kevin Scott Hall performed in cabaret clubs for many years and recorded three CDs, including “New Light Dawning” in 1998, which received national airplay. He also worked at the legendary piano bar, Rose’s Turn, and has taught cabaret workshops and directed shows since 1995. Kevin earned his MFA in Creative Writing at City College of New York. He is an adjunct professor in the Theatre and English departments at City College and Borough of Manhattan Community College. His novel, “Off the Charts!” was published in 2010, and his memoir, “A Quarter Inch from My Heart” (Wisdom Moon), in 2014. Kevin writes a monthly column and entertainment features for Edge Media Network, writes reviews for BistroAwards.com, and freelances for other publications.