I was introduced to Ryan Adams by a friend who phoned me after one of his NYC concerts exclaiming, "I just saw Ryan Adams, the guy who used to freak out at concerts because of drugs and stuff. But I just saw him play a show sober while wearing moon shoes and a Pebbles pony tail on top of his head!" A few months later, my friend crossed paths with Adams in a deli and had a cordial conversation. The guy throws tantrums, wears moon shoes, eats bagels, and writes great music?! Is he single?
I was revved to go to Adams' show as it was, but after the buzz surrounding the recent Minneapolis gig, I thought, "What's this wanker's problem?"
The Barrymore was already pulsating with Adams when I got there -- ten minutes after the time stamped on the ticket. The stage was dark as night, with a grizzly sized disco ball hanging above the drummer. Twinkling lights, similar to those on the ceiling of the theater flickered behind the band on the backdrop. Normally, shows at the Barrymore are shiny and white lit, but Adams was basked in a dark glow of blues, reds and greens. It was evident from his shaggy haircut and face hiding antics that the focus was not the man but the music.
The audience -- which rumor has it included chanteuse/actress, Mandy Moore -- was under his thumb for the first segment of the show. Nervous onlookers were silent during songs, allowing only music -- instead of drunken babble and a pissed off frontman -- to bounce off the walls. One could practically hear insects scurrying during the harmony rich "Peaceful Valley," which earned my vote for most beautifully lush tune of the night. Perhaps every artist should scare the hell out of his fans now and again?
As the concert went on, it was clear that the moody brooder folks expected was absent and in his place was a jocular, happy dude.
"That's not how you play the song, Neil. What the fuck?!" Adams yelled like a pissed off teenager to guitarist Neal Casal, beginning a long line of sarcasm. Even when Adams was displeased with his sound, he kept it humorous. When he wanted the vocals turned down at the front of the stage, he remarked, "I can pretty much sing on key when I'm not full of booze. It's not about you [the audience], you are fine. It's about me. I can't understand what the fuck I'm singing!" When the crowd yelled their love and hate, he faux cried with Casal: "Wah! Stop yelling things at me! Wah!," ending the weeping with a cacophony of giggles.
When it comes down to it, Ryan Adams is a human being. He's a perfectionist, sure, but he also has integrity. No one wants their output to be anything but the genuine product, be it a song or a tray of cupcakes. Sure, people can argue that if they spend cash on a ticket, they deserve a good show. But the same goes for haircuts, and everyone has gotten one that's turned into a mullet.
Throw Ryan Adams a little slack. This is a guy whose bad day becomes a ticker tape item on CNN. He wants what the audience hears to be perfect, not some contorted version of his sound. Call it whiney, call it anal retentive, but really, it's more like caring. Adams is the first artist I've come across whose desire to do it right musically outweighed his desire to be superficially fawned over.
The well executed show lasted approximately two hours and featured a smattering of different styles and material, including the honey voiced Neal Casal's feature "Freeway to the Canyon." The sultry "What Sin Replaces Love" channelled the bluesy side of Adams, amid more classic rock and alt country standards. Even an experimental jam was thrown in for good measure. Adams jokingly proclaimed it was his newest single, "Tuba Sandwich."
The evening finished with Adams solo on piano for a dirge-like "Sylvia Plath," a single light draped on him like moonlight in an alley.