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Ryan Adams

(2 Apr 2012: The Buell Theatre — Denver, CO)

Five minutes before showtime, the lights dimmed then regained full strength: a signal to finish your drink and let a uniformed usher show you to your seat before the show started. Alcohol and most other beverages were not allowed in the theater: only bottled water. The seats were plush and comfortable, with ample legroom. The carpets were clean. There were cup holders.


If we hadn’t already known, a shaggy haired, leather jacket wearing, swearing rock star type is just about the last person we’d have expected to see walk onto a stage that usually plays home to musicals and symphonies. But amidst cheers Ryan Adams came on stage, sat down, looked to the crowd, raised his hands in devil-horned salute and asked with a bit more than a hint of sarcasm, “Are you ready to get sad?”. He then quickly hung his head and slowly strummed the opening notes of “Oh My Sweet Carolina” to immediate recognition and loud, quickly halted cheers.


When a lone guitarist takes the stage in a beautiful theater like The Buell in downtown Denver, you kind of expect it to be a quiet, relaxing evening without much room for humor. Especially when that artist is Ryan Adams, known primarily for his thoughtful, minor key songs. A lot of sulking goes into his tunes, I’m sure, and I can guarantee from personal experience that just as much comes out of them. But somehow, in between almost every song, and no matter how quiet, slow or generally depressing the next one was destined to be, Adams was able to make his audience laugh. It was that same sarcastic humor he started the evening off with, and an ability to comment on his inability to interact with an audience. At one point he improvised (or at least it seemed improvised) a song about missing his cat while he was on the road. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Ryan Adams concert without at least a couple references to old metal bands. (Paraphrased example: “Can you imagine the text messages going back and forth between the members of Black Sabbath right now? I bet it’s just indecipherable rune language that nobody could ever understand, like shooting lightning bolts through the phone”.) Any time a fan would scream anything (which was, unfortunately, often) he’d spew out some wisecrack. A couple of times he even improvised songs about his hecklers. And when it came to requests, he simply answered, “No”.


It is quite obvious that Adams is what he writes about. Music is not just something he does for a living, or that he performs because he’s good at. His songs are close to him and he plays each one as if it’s for the first time, and his audience knows and, mostly, respects that. For some reason though, there are always people who feel the need to call out song requests as if they own him, as if they own any artist. It’s remarkably similar to going to a gallery opening and asking the painter to only show a specific painting, or only giving an author credit for one story. Songs, like paintings and novels, can be enjoyed at home as well as in person—but if you choose to go to an event, it seems that you should at least try to appreciate the artist for all of their work. Luckily Adams handled his requestors with sarcastic class, for which the rest of the audience was thankful.


It was impressive to see him jump back and forth from sarcastic, animated performer to the hunched over guitarist, hardly making eye contact with the crowd while he played, commanding silence as soon as he hit note one on each song. But it was not necessarily surprising. His songs take you over, and just as he was totally focused, so was his audience throughout the evening. He switched back and forth from seated acoustic guitar to upright piano, eventually moving his own setup over five feet or so to play the last couple of songs standing up. Even one man, alone on stage with his instrument, can entertain a full evening.


Setlist:


01. Oh My Sweet Carolina
02. Ashes & Fire
03. If I Am a Stranger
04. Dirty Rain
05. My Winding Wheel
06. Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)
07. Invisible Riverside
08. Everybody Knows
09. Firecracker
10. Let It Ride
11. Rescue Blues
12. Please Do Not Let Me Go
13. English Girls Approximately
14. Chains of Love
15. Two
16. Lucky Now
17. Avenues
18. New York, New York
19. Wonderwall
20. The End
21. 16 Days
22. Come Pick Me Up
Encore
23. Nutshell (Alice In Chains cover)
24. When Will You Come Back Home?

Jonathan Kosakow has been a regular contributor for PopMatters since 2009, and became Associate Events Editor two years later. He contributes to Glide Magazine's Hidden Track blog (www.hiddentrackblog.com), both on his own and as a member of the editorial collective Three Grown Men. His writing has also appeared on Relix.com and Jambands.com, but most of it can be found on the floor of his apartment or stashed away in files on his computer. Jonathan recently earned his Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the University of Denver, and does his best to be an active member of the music and writing community in the Denver/Boulder area. He is the Director of Operations at the Boulder-based company Eco Vessel, and is the co-founder of the music-related website NoiseReport.net, and the beer-related blog beermadeclear.com, both currently in production.


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