This review started to write itself before even leaving the venue – one of those times where there are so many moments of inspiration, the difficulty is not in coming up with something to write about, but rather, picking the right things to concentrate on.
Ryan Adams has been marked alternatively as a genius, nutcase and rip-off at varying times in his career. I hesitate at the word "genius" as I believe that title can only bestowed with the vantage of elapsed time, but I will defend my opinion that he is one of the most talented singer/songwriters out there today, and one of the best to come along in a while. I’m not a country music fan, but have become enamored with the alternative country rock that Adams often personifies.
After following his career in recordings only, this past weekend afforded me the opportunity to see him live, in the cozy setting of the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, MA. He went on about 40 minutes after the posted start time, but made up for it with a fantastic set consisting of both popular songs and deep tracks:
1. Goodnight Rose
2. Peaceful Valley
3. What Sin
4. Beautiful Sorta
5. Freeway To The Canyon
7. Cold Roses
8. Off Broadway
9. I See Monsters
11. Rescue Blues
12. Dear Chicago
13. Please Do Not Let Me Go
14. A Kiss Before I Go
16. Dear John
17. Easy Plateau
18. Sweet Lil’ Gal (solo) (aborted)
19. Magnolia Mountain
21. The End
Adam’s styles begs comparisons to many other artists, and I can’t resist the temptation – listening to his songs brings up a variety of similar sounding artists, from Bob Dylan to Jeff Buckley. However, seeing him live, the most appropriate comparison would be Neil Young – not surprising given his country influences and emphasis on strong songwriting – but also the Grateful Dead, an association which I would NOT have made prior to the concert.
During songs like "Cold Roses," "Easy Plateau," and especially "Magnolia Mountain," the performances got stretched out into extended jams, often straying completely from the original melody, developing into new tunes. Some of them – as in the case of "Magnolia Mountain" – went into a spacey, downright trippy vein, complete with a giant mirror ball reflecting specks of colored light as notes bounced around with equally energy.
I held some trepidation going into the concert – a friend whom I introduced to Ryan Adams in the last year recently saw him live and was left disappointed, seeing only a short set and very little interaction with the audience. However, that was clearly an off night, as Adams was downright jovial, even though he was performing with the flu, something that became a running joke throughout the night ("this is the first time I’ve had the flu while sober – its cool" he quipped at one point), along with poking fun at his own temperament and trading jibes with the audience and band members. In fact, at several points, Adams called for the audience to be a bit quieter ("less audience!") but kept his cool throughout, even when a fan replied with "less whining!"
However, the in-between song banter was secondary to the music, which was tight but exploratory, and most importantly, extremely satisfying. There were a ton of songs that I wish he had played, but I also have no problem with what was played – there were songs that I love ("Nightbirds" and "Rescue Blues") but would have considered too much of a "deep track" to be played live. But more on that in my next post…