Friday, October 17, 2008

Ryan Adams is a barrel of laughs

Actually, not really. I had never seen Ryan Adams before (even when he has been in the lineup for past ACL Festivals I've been to), but his bitchiness has been well documented, so I was kind of hoping to see some drama at Verizon Tuesday night. But alas, there was no meltdown, no tantrum, though there was some prickliness evident here and there--including giving some sass to one particular concertgoer who insisted on yelling "Freebird!" during a lull in the show (Adams responded by repeatedly whispering, "You're so smart, you're so smart . . .").

All in all, though, Adams seemed detached, perhaps due to his recovering from a bout of bronchitis (which had caused him to cancel two shows the prior week). But some of the general standoffishness seemed inherent--looking down at his shoes the whole night, showing little interest in the crowd, standing near the back of the stage the entire show, not playing any encore--so I guess, bronchitis or no, I can say I saw a typical Ryan Adams show.

The music, however, sounded very, very good. Adams and his band, The Cardinals, were tight, both instrumentally and vocally (rare is the band that can sing a four-part harmony--a fact that they seemed at times indulgent about), and the set list was decent. Sure, for every "Wonderwall" or "The Sun Also Sets" I would have traded for a "When Stars Go Blue" or "City Rain, City Streets," but there were definitely some standouts, such as the very pretty "Come Pick Me Up" and the strangely catchy "I See Monsters." A number of songs also came from the soon-to-be-released album, Cardinology (a kinda dumb name, if you ask me), though those songs didn't excite me too much.

Leaving the show, Gwen and I agreed that the show was probably a 6.5 out of 10. Good sound, skillful musicianship, and tight harmonies are commendable, but one can get that simply by listening to the albums. Live shows should deliver something more immediate or visceral or spontaneous. But this one was a tad sterile, albeit still enjoyable. Maybe part of the sterility was due to the fact that the show was structured like a classical music performance--the audience entirely seated, an intermission in the middle, and no encore. If that was Adams's pomposity at work, then it doesn't serve his music well.
Another downside of a seated audience is that there was no real opportunity for me to get super annoyed with anyone--one of my favorite pastimes--which was a bit of a bummer. And believe me, I tried. But while an audience full of people who look like they're alumni of Washington & Lee may be offensive in theory, I have to say they were, all in all, pretty well behaved and reasonable. But this is probably all the more reason there should have been a meltdown.

Here is a good performance of "Come Pick Me Up" on Letterman from a few years back:

(Photo above courtesy of The Spaghetti Incident.)

No comments: