Hinder Rocks The House

Rock's best-kept secret: Austin Winkler, Hinder's frontman, at the 9:30 club.
Rock's best-kept secret: Austin Winkler, Hinder's frontman, at the 9:30 club. (By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 2, 2006

Steven Tyler can have his scarves. Austin Winkler, the otherwise Tyleresque lead singer of the ascendant power-rock band Hinder, has a different idea about how a rock star prone to debauchery should properly decorate his microphone stand.

His recipe is simple, but crass: Take multiple brassieres, hang them from said stand and -- voila! -- you have the perfect prop to amplify your status as the new king of swaggering, sexualized rock-and-roll.

During a ragged set Thursday night at the sold-out 9:30 club, Hinder proved that it's quite possible to sound like Aerosmith covering Nickelback, the angsty, power-balladeering, post-grunge band, while misbehaving like the loony, libidinous fruitcakes in Motley Crue.

Winkler in particular has his role down pat as frontman for the Oklahoma City band. His voice isn't particularly distinctive (frayed and screechy, it sounds like a cross between Tyler's howl and the raspy wail of Nickelback's Chad Kroger), and he repeatedly wandered off-key during the performance; that was especially true during a raging song about self-medication, "Bliss." But what Winkler lacked in pitch control, he made up for with abundant charisma, thus suggesting that acting like a rock star might be every bit as important as sounding like one.

All stringy hair, high cheekbones and bright, white teeth, and wearing a dark vest over a dark sleeveless tee, a wallet chain hanging from his hip, Winkler swigged vodka straight from the bottle, strutted around the stage like a rooster and preened at every turn. He also dropped so many curse words that even the "Deadwood" writers might have blushed. Sample dialogue: "Hey, ladies -- how the [expletive] are we feeling tonight?" (Pretty good, as it turns out; shortly thereafter, somebody handed Winkler a bra. He gets that -- and those -- a lot, as evidenced by his mike stand. Talk about a support group.)

There's nothing subtle about Hinder's approach. From the hedonistic posturing to the cliched chords and lyrics about one-night-stands ("Room 21"), makeup sex ("Get Stoned") and post-breakup laments ("Better Than Me"), this is a band that aims low. Or, as it were, high: Hinder knows from power ballads and epic, soaring choruses.

It's lowest-common-denominator rawk: obvious, base and generic. But it's also relatively well-crafted: Simpleton lyrics aside, the band has a knack for volcanic hooks and strong melodies, and the musicianship is solid -- at least in the studio. Onstage, the band often sounded loose and sloppy, with the rhythm section splitting apart and guitarists Joe "Blower" Garvey and Mark King occasionally tripping over each other's riffs. Could it be that the musicians were distracted by their friends perched on the VIP balcony, where they spent the first third of the show showering the stage with confetti, water, posters, socks, cardboard boxes, surgical gloves and just about anything else they could find?

Anyway, by following the sort of formula that tends to win fans but not critical plaudits, Hinder has become one of the most successful secrets in rock. With little fanfare and attention, the quintet's major-label debut, "Extreme Behavior" -- the one with the half-naked woman on the cover, next to multiple photos of the Hinder boys doing Jaeger shots -- has sold 1.4 million copies since its 2005 release; "Lips of an Angel," a leaden power ballad about emotional infidelity, reached No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart last month. Not bad for a band that nobody seems to talk about.

Hinder has become a quiet success in large part because its fan base was grown from the inside out: The group was a hit first in the Midwest and only recently has conquered the coasts. In fact, Winkler said Thursday's show was Hinder's first in the Washington area -- a somewhat remarkable fact given the band's platinum status.

The concert, which ran for just over an hour, featured "Extreme Behavior" in its 10-song entirety. To flesh out the set, Hinder decided to include a cover song -- fitting, since Winkler used to perform in a cover band. But instead of dipping into the Motley Crue, Warrant or Ratt songbooks for something nice and sleazy, Hinder went with an earnest, uninspired reading of Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight."

For those who are about to rock, we disappoint you.

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