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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Ryan Adams Gets Romantic At Walt Disney Concert Hall

Michael Juliani |
February 18, 2012 | 6:25 p.m. PST


Image via Wikimedia
Image via Wikimedia
At a Ryan Adams show, you're waiting for a woman from the audience to yell "I love you Ryan!" from the very minute he walks onstage to applause, sheds his patch-sewn jean jacket and says into the mic: "Okay. Let's get sad together."  

Forty-five minutes or so into his stripped-down, storyteller-mode set, while he tunes his guitar between ballads, someone does. "Thank you," he says. "I love you too…But you're only saying that because I sound sad in my songs. If I came out here playing happy stuff…"  

He goes on to improvise three minutes of Jack Johnson-like life affirmation, including the lyrics: "I've got nothing to do today / So I guess I'll just climb some trees."  

Adams is back in shows and record stores after a couple years of recuperation from Méniére's Disease, an inner ear affliction he noticed after getting sober from drugs and alcohol in 2006. "Ashes & Fire," released in the fall, deals with stories of people undamaged by rebirth and recovery, doused in the flame of palm trees and singed love.  

Disney Hall caters to a show like Adams', whose stretchy voice twangs along with the two guitars he uses, identical acoustics tri-colored like a Spanish-speaking country's flag. 

Fifteen minutes before the show, stuck lounging on an air-conditioned armchair between smooching couples, young and old, waiting for the wings to open their doors to seating, I'm driven to Tweet some sarcasm:  "At Walt Disney Concert Hall for @TheRyan Adams show, writing for @neontommy.  You could build an army of couples who look alike."  

After a few minutes I'm buzzed back from Adams himself: "@mhjuliani @neontommy it's what's inside a person that matters aye." Me: "@TheRyanAdams Agreed, I'm just being a smartass because they're not letting us in yet. See you soon. P.S. Can I interview you?" Adams: "Oh ok gotcha. Have fun tonite x."

No interview, but still. Finally inside, after watching ushers admonish people for snapping camera pictures--strictly against the rules--Mark Twain suddenly appears onstage, drunk, bathed in circular white light with his lines scrolling down two screens at the foot of the stage.  

The voice, look and wisdom are spot-on for about twenty minutes, Twain telling us how he's going to write about Mary Baker Eddy (the founder of Christian Science), how he's "been drunk before, but this is a masterpiece" and repeating the phrase "Let's get started" just after he's made more people anxious to get to music.  

A lot of the audience left to go to the bar or the bathroom. "What the fuck is this?" seemed to be a common sentiment. After he left us finally, we hear: "Ladies and gentlemen, Val Kilmer" and Twain comes back on the stage to wave goodbye, this time to tremendous shocked applause--"Val Kilmer!  No way!" The spot-on Twain characterization is a preview of a movie Kilmer plans to direct and star in sometime soon. 

Then, the man of the hour took the stage. Adams himself is full of contradictions. He has the mischievous grin, enthusiasm and wit of a young teenager (with the mopey hair to match), but writes droves of love ballads about complex, furious relationships and tumultuous loss. You could say that Taylor Swift owes him something, but that would be crass.  

He's a jukebox hero kind of singer-songwriter, raised in North Carolina, tried by the worlds of New York City heroin, coke and booze. He can also admit when he's been kicked in the ass or when he's being pretentious ("I'm wearing a shirt and a vest at the same time," he declared).    

My first tweet about the couples was encouraged, I suppose, by the Ryan Adams of old, who became as finger-tip abrasive as a snapping turtle a day and a half into quitting cigarettes.  

Young men, whipped by their extended boyhoods and the half-grown masculine pride inside, find something to pick on in the innocent--girlfriends, audiences, the public, the media (which may not be, after all, all that innocent).  

So maybe that's where Adams, a guy who geeks out over AC/DC, Black Flag and black metal, squeezes out these bruised, tender, panty-dropping love songs. Friday night's set consisted mostly of songs off the new record, the title song and "Dirty Rain" being particular highlights.  

He's a really good harmonica player, even better live than on records, and he plays all the songs off his expansive collection that uphold his reputation as one of the most interesting songwriters in the last couple decades: "Oh My Sweet Carolina," "Two" and "Come Pick Me Up," which is one of the best songs to come from a modern singer-songwriter.  

In the program for the night Adams listed his wit as one of his instruments. Laughs were as plentiful as applause and yelled platitudes from the audience, since that's not all that far from the truth.  

In between songs, while tuning, he puts on an improvised stage act of mumbles. He sings songs to his cat, Mr. Cat. who he called "an emotional genius." He dedicated "Chains of Love" to his "boo" Mandy Moore, his wife since 2009.  

Adams took the piss out of the modern construction of the encore, which has become so commonplace its absence at a show by a performer his size would be astonishing. He made a joke out of it: "So this is the fake last song. Then I'm going to go to the side and you're going to feed my ego for a couple minutes and I'll come back out and pretend to get my shit and act surprised and play another for you."  

So he came back out and played the late Ronnie James Dio's "Holy Diver," then left for real, because the Hall has a strict curfew.  

Reach Michael Juliani here.  Follow him on Twitter here.



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