Review: Ryan Adams at Temple Buell, 2/4/12
Noah Van Sciver Ryan Adams last night at the Buell: Who needs pictures when you've got Noah Van Sciver?
RYAN ADAMS @ TEMPLE BUELL THEATRE | 2/4/12
It's probably safe to assume that the inquiring mind -- the one who just asked Ryan Adams if the red, white and blue guitars he's been playing all night bear any reference to Buck Owens (they do) -- will not be one of the four people in the crowd who get the Lemmy joke Adams later inserts into an anecdote about projectile vomiting in London. If the witticism is lost on the dude, though, you can hardly blame him. More than likely, he falls on the y'allternative side of the Adams continuum. Just the same, even Iann Robinson would need a syllabus to keep up with the singer's myriad metal allusions.
Let's see: Not counting the Kiss (natch) exit music, the genius black-metal-evoking piano interlude centered on the antics of one Mr. Cat and his brother Vincent that Adams gloriously ad-libs before "Avenues," the Burzum shirt that Adams may or may not be wearing (in the pitch darkness of the Buell, it's hard to say for certain), the Iron Maiden display that appears to be emblazoned on the back of his leather jacket (again, pretty dark in here), Adams will offer up nearly half a dozen asides involving Slaughter, Black Sabbath, Britny Fox and Danzig by the end of his 24-song set, the penultimate tune of which will be a highly estimable cover of "Nutshell," by Alice in Chains.
Before he makes it to that part of the evening, however, he will keep the crowd notably engaged and riveted for the entire set with a seemingly never-ending stream of quips. The sultan of sarcasm, Adams displays a keen sense of humor and a razor-sharp repartee as he trades barbs with the more vocal members of the audience over the course of the evening. For whatever reason, some folks just can't seem to help themselves, and they blurt out random declarations and requests. Adams handles it all with admirable aplomb, indulging some of the more exasperating commenters ("It's Victoria's birthday," bellows one gentleman. "Happy birthday, Victoria," Adams quietly mutters) while responding with a simple "No" to the shouted requests, or playfully putting others on blast.
In one particularly memorable moment, when one gentleman perplexingly yells "Play the good one!" and another says "I like your hair," Adams launches into a humorous, semi-esoteric sci-fi diatribe involving ectoplasm and the movie Dune, pointing out how their collective ineptitude as hecklers has earned them placement outside the spectrum. Even if you don't get the reference (we don't), you still can't help but laugh. The best exchange of the evening comes earlier in the set, when one fella exclaims, "Thanks for coming," to which Adams responds, "Thank you! I fucking love this place! You have a gas station here that sells weed." (Ah, yes, this is the Mile High City, Mr. Adams. Glad the two of you have had a chance to become acquainted.)
Seriously, his banter and observations throughout the set is worth half the price of admission in itself. "This next song is about feelings," he deadpans at the end of "Ashes & Fire," adding, "It's about super feelings." Those remarks are later followed by a self-deprecating acknowledgement that his songs are like Hallmark cards. "Are you all ready to get sad," he intones in his best cock-rock falsetto, admitting that he doesn't really know what the appropriate banter is when the crowd responds favorably to his heartrending music.
With such bountiful charisma, Adams would be forgiven if he were merely a marginal performer. He's not, of course -- not even close. There's a reason he can pack places the size of the Buell on his own with just a guitar and keep everybody engaged for two hours: If you haven't seen him live, Adams is every bit as compelling on stage as he is on record. From beginning to end, the set -- which pulls songs from all parts of his catalogue -- is profoundly enjoyable thanks to Adams's masterful sense of dynamics and his mellifluous vocals, which are in absolute top form on this evening. Hell, even when he's goofing, Adams is still better than approximately 99.5 percent of the other songwriters clogging the airwaves.
"Can you imagine if they had Prozac when I was growing up?" he wonders aloud early in the set before launching into a mesmerizing pop-inflected improv with a melody line that's so tight you'd swear its rehearsed: "I just climbed a tree today in my yellow pants...What kind of cake am I going to eat today...in my fucking yellow pants!" If that isn't enough, here he also manages to squeeze in a quip about meeting the members of Britny Fox at a laundromat. And there are plenty of off-the-cuff moments like this during the show, including his feigned mea culpa expressing the instant remorse he feels for giving the lame hecklers a ration of shit.
It's perfectly fitting that Adams chose the Buell to perform his one-man show, as he provides some magnificent theater. Like the best shows the venue has played host to over the years, this one has us laughing, crying and marveling in equal measure, and by the end of it, when everyone stands to show their appreciation, like Adams's music, it's genuine and heartfelt. While much has been made on the blogosphere about the supposedly draconian tactics being employed to protect the integrity of the performance, turns out it's really much ado about nothing.
Given the intimate nature of this performance -- it's so quiet at times, you can hear the chair creaking when Adams leans forward or adjusts himself -- you can easily see how it would've been marred with peripheral distractions like folks incessantly taking pictures with their cell phones. While some are brave enough to take flash photos (?), despite the posted admonitions not to, we don't witness any of the ushers scolding anybody or confiscating cameras, and even those who have to answer nature's call have thus far been quite discreet about it -- and the show is all the more enjoyable as a result. At the end of the show, as everybody files out to the fist-pumping refrains of Kiss's "Lick it Up," you'd be hard-pressed to find a single soul who feels that he didn't get his money's worth tonight -- and then some.
Click through for a setlist, critic's notebook and a bit about Butch Walker's excellent opening set.