Ryan Adams At Amoeba, Wednesday February 22nd 2017
Ryan Adams has a new album ’Prisoner’, and he is touring around the country during this spring and summer. But, as he told us many times during the show, he adores Amoeba so much (‘I come here all the time’) that he performed there on Wednesday night for about an hour, in front of a full house. People had been lining up hours before the show, as it was expected, and I came very early for that one. I was not even in the front, but it was not too bad. ‘When did Ryan Adams become such a hot ticket?’ asked me someone after the show? Ryan has always been a darling of the underground music scene, but right now he may well be our new Neil Young, unless he could be the next Bruce Springsteen… many songs of the new album have certainly all these classic accents.
He had asked for no press, no flash, no video (as if people were ready to put their phones down), and no signing – artists always sign their new album at Amoeba, but I don’t blame Ryan on that one, with that large crowd, he could have been stuck for a day…. Not that he would have complained, he looooves Amoeba, he dwelt on the subject during an entire monologue of a few minutes, because, yes, Ryan is very talkative. May be Amoeba should use him in an ad, he was convincing while mentioning his special relationship with employees: ‘This is your place man, this is a sanctuary, this is like a library’, and he went on and on about the beauty of this giant record store.
Iman wrote a great review of his show at the Apollo theater a few days ago, complaining about the jokes between the songs, and it’s no mystery that ‘Prisoner’ is about his divorce from Mandy Moore, these ‘Anything I Say to You Now’, ‘Breakdown’, or ‘To Be Without You’ are sad songs, in the old Ryan Adams tradition, but his humor killed the mood all set long, people around me were laughing non stop, I was laughing, and this can appear as odd especially after the hyper dramatic start of the show, and the outpouring of emotion during ‘Do You Still Love Me?’
But Ryan does even more than cracking jokes, he came dressed as a Star Wars Sith, face hidden by the hood, and for a while, I thought he would stay dressed like this for the whole show, he visibly doesn’t like photos. This is the strange thing about Ryan, he acts as if he were your friend, but he screams at you (not me) when you dare to use a flash during the show ‘Stop with that flash! Calm down! Oh my god, does it need to be brighter over here? This is like, put me in a microwave!’… was Ryan still joking? Was Ryan really mad at the guy? You never know, because otherwise this was the type of interaction you could get with him: ‘It’s my birthday’, screamed someone in the crowd. ‘Happy birthday… Why are you here on your birthday? Who did this to you?’ replied a confused Adams… ‘Because he loves your new album’, answered someone… ‘What?’ and someone closer to the stage repeated, ‘Because he loves your new album’. ‘Oh my God! it’s like this movie, they are in the subway… is it Crocodile Dundee 1 or 2?’, joked Ryan, an always pop culture savvy man, and I am not only talking about his Taylor Swift covers. He even improvised a complete song after someone screamed at him ‘More Pleasure’… ‘More Pleasure, I haven’t played that one for so long!’, and the set derailed into an improvisation, a stream of consciousness made-up lyrics about records, movies, George Lucas, CGI, birds, feathers, pleasure… ‘That’s like the hidden track at the end of the CD’.
Beside the jokes, the (fake) anger, the new songs sounded beautiful live, pure vintage Ryan Adams with melancholic vocals, some soul-searching ruminations over and blasting guitars. I must admit I was not too enthusiastic after streaming ‘Prisoner’ at home before going to the show. The album sounded like classic Ryan Adams, too classic may be, too in the middle of the road for a awful-dramatic breakup, I thought he could have recorded this at any time of his life, during any year, whereas he was supposed to go through a horrible life-changing experience? The music took shape live, it was truly alive, big and bright, although I am still a bit confused… was he joking between songs to avoid crying or the other way around? Is he faking the hurt in the songs or is he this sincere tortured soul slowly swallowing his pain?
And then, there were the 10-12-minute long jams à la Neil Young, jazzy-psychedelic jams crying the 70’s, that I would probably call self-indulgent if Ryan Adams were John Mayer, but he is Ryan, the heartbroken divorcée with the heartfelt songs, who drinks all the music he can to sedate the hurt, or at least makes us believe just this.
Ryan Adams was one of the most talkative performers I have seen in a long time, but I still don’t know who is the real Ryan Adams. Happy or unhappy? Joking about anything or lamenting over a dead love? Where is the act? Everything? Or was he transforming a traumatizing life event into a classic album in front of our eyes.
Do You Still Love Me?
More Pleasure (improv)
Anything I Say to You Now
To Be Without You
Peaceful Valley (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)
Magnolia Mountain (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)