Review: Ryan Adams at Temple Buell, 2/4/12
Ryan Adams last night at the Buell: Who needs pictures when you've got Noah Van Sciver?
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.
Butch Walker last night at the Buell, seen through the eyes of Noah Van Sciver.
Noah Van Sciver
In this case, the "then some" above refers to Butch Walker. If you missed his opening set, whoo, boy! -- let's just say you missed a lot. As the lights went down, Walker muttered something off-mike about being buddies with Ryan, and it's a safe bet that some folks in the back didn't catch what he said and may have even thought he was Adams (their voices have a similar timbre, and in the dark, from a distance, they faintly resemble each other). Just the same, Walker was simply mind-blowing in his own right.
Opening with "Joan," he immediately sucked us all in with a flawless falsetto and the lines about Colorado. After a few songs, each filled with the kind of incisive lines that Randy Newman would admire, one guy said what the rest of us were all no doubt thinking: "You're good, man!" Near the end of his criminally short set, by the time he phoned up his dad in Georgia to get us all to wish him happy anniversary (Walker's parents celebrated fifty years today), we were putty in his hands. More so when he went on to recount the story of his dad taking him to his first Kiss concert at the age of eight and how profoundly it impacted him -- the music, the people passing joints, but mostly seeing the old man choking the guy behind them dressed like Gene Simmons and spilling beer on his dad's leather jacket.
Walker mentioned how he and Adams sort of formed a mutual admiration society on Twitter. When "Lucky Now" was released, Walker evidently Tweeted Adams (probably drunk, he reveals) to say "Fuck you, Ryan Adams, for writing such a good song!" He confessed to the crowd that he, like everybody else on hand tonight, is a fan of Adams. It's safe to say that many of those same people, at least the ones who caught his set, can now say the same of Walker -- if they weren't already, that is.
Personal Bias: Been a fan of Adams since the Whiskeytown days, and have always thought Heartbreaker contained some of his best work.
Random Detail: Although his guitar was plugged in, an additional condenser mike set up on a stand in front of his guitar enhanced the overall sound and dynamic range, allowing us to hear every nuance of the songs and his playing. Bonus Random Detail: The same shrill Shrek-like voice that played before the show last fall at Su Teatro (captured by That's The Thing About That), the one urging everybody to shut off their phones lest the ushers destroy you and burn your remains, played before last night's show.
By the Way: Adams surmised that the "one good song" remark the guy made was referring to "Come Pick Me Up," hands down the ringer song of the set. The crowd went absolutely bananas when he cued it up. Also, while "Nutshell" was dope, we would've straight-up killed for some "Round and Round."
Ryan Adams Temple Buell Theatre - Denver, CO 2/4/12
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
23. Nutshell (Alice In Chains cover) 24. When Will You Come Back Home?
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.