I consider myself a man of science. Not an active practitioner of science, but certainly an enthusiast. (this basically means when Planet Earth or NOVA is on, you know where I’ll be.) But some things defy common knowledge. I was thinking of my old friend Eric yesterday, a bass player in a former band, and all around unique character. We hadn’t spoken in nearly 2 years, he’s not on Facebook, I figured he dropped off the map.
That evening, I’m walking home from purchasing a synth in the most sketchy craigslist transaction of all time (and thats saying a lot) it’s pouring rain, and my phone rings. Its Eric. How do these things happen? These weird little experiences happen to all of us, lets get someone to fund some research on this shit. Anyway, he asks “Want to see Ryan Adams tonight? I have a free extra” To that there is only one response “Is he performing as his Rap and/or Metal alterego?” If the answer to that question is “No” then the followup response is “Yes, of course”
I tried to get tickets to this event initially, it sold out very quickly, and was very expensive. Its strange how things like that work out sometimes. I have had 3 live experiences with Ryan Adams in my life. First, he played a Bob Dylan tribute at Lincoln Center, and lit the venue ablaze with a cover of “Isis.” Next, I met him in a Deli, told him I enjoyed the “Isis” cover, to which he was very nice and responsive. Finally, I saw The Cardinals at Town Hall. Adams came out in giant leather moon boots, with a little ponytail on top of his head, and played a very long set of what sounded like Grateful Dead covers, lots of solos…we had to take a break.
This tour seemed a little different, Adams was performing solo acoustic, he had taken time off from music for the last year, he had cleaned himself up, it’s worth a shot. I haven’t heard much of his new album, a friend commented “it almost seems too easy for him, like he just wakes up and writes 45 fairly decent songs” You definitely get that vibe. None of his songs are hideous, but only a few are truly great. I won’t go into a full on “Heartbreaker vs the 297 albums that came after” analysis, but you know what I’m getting at.
Adams came out, picked up his red white and blue guitar, and went into “Oh My Sweet Carolina” Things were pretty much all good from there out. While I was up in the nosebleeds, Carnegie hall is a beautiful sounding venue, made for music like this. You could hear every quiet note, the natural sound of the room enhancing everything.
The show was not without its signature Ryan Adams banter, calling out various photographers “thanks for bringing your camera from 1981, do you have to change the flashbulb after each shot?” Commenting on the snakes in the balcony (one dude kept shushing everyone who clapped at parts of a song) and creating several on the spot songs – One woman yelled “That was beautiful!” he responded “did you say Howard Is Beautiful?” a full song about Howard being beautiful followed. Apparently Howard gets all the Apple products first, and controls inter-dimensional force fields.
The highlight of the show was unexpected. We heard all the hits, “Winding Wheel” “Come Pick Me Up” all that, but I was blown away by “New York, New York” Played on piano rather than guitar, and slowed down a whole bunch, it just got to the heart of the song. It bypassed the sax solo and conga parts that made it the pop song it was, and stood up completely on its own. You got the feeling that when Adams is at the top of his songwriting game, he taps into some magical shit. How many others could hold the attention of a venue like that completely on their own? It’s almost as if you could see these mythical women he writes about, a cartoon version of all his famous exes combined, 14 feet talk, swinging one of those spikey ball chains from fantasy thriller movies.
We did get a cover of RATT’s “Round and Round” and a closing number thanking everyone, including C&C Music Factory, a running joke throughout the evening. So until he puts out 16 albums in a row about space travel, or decides to write a series of novels about a sea captain trapped in a worm hole with Tom Brokaw, I’m confident in saying, he can still perform a serious show.