Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ryan Adams - December 10, 2011, Winter Garden Theatre, Toronto, ON

I adore Ryan Adams (That's "RYAN", the angsty singer songwriter, not "BRYAN", the Canadian summerofsixtynine guy.  I can't count the amount of people I had to make this distinction to when I said I was seeing him, and even the ushers guiding us up the stairs in the Winter Garden Theatre were directing us to the Ryan "Not Bryan" Adams  I think Ryan Adams is a brilliant (and extremely prolific) song writer who pours his soul, insecurities, past heartbreaks, and life lessons learned into his music.  This is a quality I treasure in my favorite musicians - the cathartic sharing of experience set to song.    I enjoy him tremendously.  But prior to this show, I wasn't sure what to expect in a live setting.  I have read a number of reviews from past tours that commented on his insistence that the audience behave a certain way, and we were a bit apprehensive going in for this reason.  He's been portrayed as temperamental live (no clapping along, no audience interaction tolerated, and certainly no cameras or cell phones without incurring his wrath)...he has definitely been labelled as difficult in the past.  This was my first Ryan Adams show, and I was mentally prepared for the rumoured "attitude", but it seemed like a worthwhile exchange being able to hear him live.  Gotta say though...did not experience any of that - He was truly delightful, infinitely talented, and charmingly funny.  He put on an exceptional show.  I found myself smiling so wide for the duration that my cheeks ached the next day.  I'm still smiling as I relive. That's some serious long lasting enjoyment. 

The Music:

Ryan Adams is the consummate musician and as a result, the music was of the top notch, skin humming variety. What can I say? His vocals were effortless, yet flawless, but possessed a rawness to them in the live setting that cut straight into your soul. Opening with the hauntingly quiet "Oh My Sweet Carolina", he played a number of new and old songs spanning his vast catalogue of material, from his Whiskeytown and Cardinals days up to the new album, Ashes and Fire, (save the two I'd really hoped to hear "Invisible Riverside" and "Do I Wait"...but we did get "Dirty Rain" and "Lucky Now").

Watching him play his guitars made me giddy.  A favorite in particular on guitar had to have been "I See Monsters".  What a great song, lyrically and melodically..... but watching him pick it out on the guitar with such skill was a thing of beauty.

Due to some sound problems in the venue (a looping, clicky noise), he only did two songs on the Piano, but his piano version of "New York, New York" with it's slowed down tempo was absolutely beautiful, and I think I prefer it to the original.  

Ryan doing "Dear John" (with a little bit of his personality, pre-song...)

He closed his set down prior to the encore with his signature tune "Come Pick Me Up".  I love this song.  Such a well crafted song with a myriad of emotions portrayed... he really got to the heart of a classic shitty relationship - blatant anger at the other person for taking advantage, anger at himself for not having the strength to walk away, and an almost quiet shame for not being able to help wanting them anyway.  (Raise your hand if you've never identified with this one).  Was spectacular to hear live, a true musical moment for me.

And amazingly, after 2 and a half hours of completely enchanting us with his tunes, he said he only had a couple more songs and that he "was gonna let us get on with our night" ('cause really, like anybody in that room would want to be anywhere else!).  I was sad that it had to end.  But he did do an encore that included an acoustic cover of 80s hair metal band Ratt's "Round and Round" and finished off with the mournful "Why Do They Leave" with the warning to "not rock out too hard to this one"!  And on that note, his enjoyable quirky personality really needs to be featured, which brings us to:

The Ryan:

He was shaggy haired and casual, dressed in jeans and his Motörhead sweater (that's a "sweater", not a "shirt"....a "sweater"....more on that in a sec).  He was fidgety - legs constantly adjusting when sitting and playing his guitar, and hand gestures abound when talking to us, as well as constantly brushing his hair back out of his eyes.  You could literally see his thoughts going a mile a minute via his facial expressions and movements.  There was a lot of randomness that busted out of him that contributed to my enjoyment of him as a person.  He was highly entertaining and at times, comically self deprecating with a natural straight man delivery.  The Ryan Adams 'personality plus' so raised the bar of the show.  For instance:
  • Attempting to tune his guitar (without success), raised it to face level, growled at it, then picked it up (along with the stand), walked it to the back of the stage and placed it with it's back to us....yep...he put his guitar in 'time out'.
  • Mentioned (when having difficulty with his second guitar) that the reason they were misbehaving was likely because the two of them (the guitars) had snuck backstage together and smoked a joint.
  • said that he was reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, and that it seemed odd to him that Dracula had such mad cooking skills in the novel and that he was constantly preparing food.  Was a recurring theme throughout the evening, with him even launching into an improv song about the feared Count cooking Perogies and Tator Tots.  (as a side note:  have downloaded the novel to my new Kobo... I think reading it in a Ryan Adams headspace will make it so much more entertaining than I remember).
  • also improv, put his aforementioned Motörhead sweater back on and launched into a song (from the point of view of the sweater, of course) about how it was a sweater, and not a shirt, and how it was forced to "lie with him in his bunk" and that Ryan "pretended he was edgy, but he's not, he writes really sappy songs about how he fucked up this relationship, and fucked up that relationship and how his friends suck, etc., etc....".  It was pure comic self deprecating, guffaw inspiring brilliance that went on for several verses (with Harmonica bridge even!)
I could go on and on at his little moments of pure awesomeness.  He did interact with the audience a little (with signs of slight annoyance, but really, I was so "with" him both times).  A man continuously hollered to him throughout the first part of the show, to the point where when he went to the Piano and sat down and the man hollered out again, he actually turned around, sought out the man and said "You see this?  You see me looking at you?  Do you feel connected now?"  It was said calmly and with an edge of humor...but it shut the guy up.  And once more, when he pointed out to a woman in the audience and said "you know, there is a button on your phone labelled "taking pictures covertly at a concert without the 'clachik' fake camera sound.  Go to your may not be called that, but it's there".  He got his point across... in a manner I found quite humorous.  Good on him.  If that's the "temperamental artist" bit that everyone is talking about, I can only hope that more of my fave musicians adopt it when someone in the crowd is acting like an idiot, and/or that Ryan's future audiences perhaps develop a sense of humor.  Toronto was completely charmed.  Thank you Ryan Adams for an intimate, awe inspiring evening.

This was our finale show of 2011.  And as the end of the 2011 concert season is upon us (with a few shows already booked for 2012!), I've had a few people comment this year that they think the amount of concerts I see is a waste of money... that the ticket price we pay is too much for a couple hours of music when you could listen to the CDs in the comfort of your own home.

I couldn't disagree more.

It is now 21 days following this show, and I keep going back to the playlist I've made that duplicates the setlist from it, and for every song, I'm taken back to how I felt when he played it live. I remember the stories he told prior to particular songs, and re-experience the soul swelling goodness as the music courses through me. It's all subjective, I suppose, but for me, the live performance is one I feel for months afterwards....believe me, I get a lot of "bang" for my "buck". I can still capture THAT moment when listening to Ryan Adams' music now, so it lasts more than a few hours and makes me appreciate in a different way some of an artists' songs I may have overlooked before, makes me dive into previously undiscovered albums, and makes me appreciate them in a whole different way.  If you're the type that measures enjoyment in units of time, (I'm most definitely NOT), maybe this might give you some insight to why I love the live music experience (even if you think I'm wasting my hard earned cash).  Sooooo worth it, and such a great way to cap off the year.  Ryan Adams has been added to the "must see" list.

Oh My Sweet Carolina
Ashes & Fire
Dirty Rain
I See Monsters
My Blue Manhattan (piano)
Everybody Knows
Dear John
Let It Ride
Dear Chicago
Chains of Love
Lucky Now
Afraid Not Scared
“Dracula Cooking” (improv)
Please Do Not Let Me Go
This House is Not For Sale
New York, New York (piano)
My Winding Wheel
16 Days (Whiskeytown song)
“Motörhead shirt” (improv)
Come Pick Me Up
Round and Round (Ratt cover)
Crossed Out Name
“Thanks for coming” (improv)
Why Do They Leave

1 comment:

  1. As your concert buddy I think you should always wait weeks to write about the concert experience, I really enjoyed the 'refresher'.