Ryan Adams At The Apollo Theatre, Thursday, February 16th, 2017, Reviewed
I have found Ryan Adams in concert equal parts enjoyable and baffling, the man has a catalog to die for and can perform a song live on stage with intelligence, concentration, skill, and a form of giving into his overwhelmingly emotional songs with complete willingness to expose the wound, if not to heal it. Any professional musician can learn from the conviction Ryan brought at the Apollo last night to a midset “Fix It” off 2008’s Cardinolgy, another break up album, another song as saturated classic rooted mid tempo bummer music. Magnificent, even if the set as a whole wasn’t what I wanted. For the opening night of his 2017 tour, with a new four piece backing band, he semi-reinvented himself as a classic rock jam master, and no problem there. But Prisoner (based upon an arcade game you could spy right behind him), the newbie, is so good, he should have performed it front to back for a first set, taken an intermission and performed hits for the next set. Instead, he carefully integrated songs from all over the place, and fit them skillfully in a 135 minute set featuring seven out of twelve new songs. Have I mentioned how great the new songs are?
The problem is pacing, the constant interruptions with humorous anecdotes messes with his momentum and it is distractingly, though sometimes very funny, off putting. The last two times I’ve seen Ryan live he has done it and it hasn’t helped the set at all and the audience at the instantly sold out Apollo are a touch too respectful and unsure of themselves. Ryan calls us the chillingest audience he has ever had but he means the quietest. It is hard to quite know how to react to an “if you call out a song I will never play it again” comment. It sounds like an insult -right? The audience plays along nervously, but it is unpleasant and uncalled for. And, here is the exact problem, it is unbelievable: it isn’t a real connection, it is talking for some reason that doesn’t fit Ryan or the concert he is performing. I saw him opening up for John Fogerty back with Whiskeytown, where he slammed Fogerty hard. That was real. I saw him at the Beacon circa Rock N Roll, a terrific gig but he was a bitch prima donna. That was real. This was nattering. Did you read that Op Ed in the Times the other day where he excused his past behavior where he threw someone out of a gig for heckling him, it is a famous one where they asked for a Bryan Adams song? That op ed wasn’t real and after a spectacular meltdown last night, it reads even less real. The best not musical moment of the entire evening was part of the real side, wiseass funny guy Ryan disappeared after an audience member shouted “Stop talking,” and that was it folks, the entire and only comment this guy made and Ryan lost it and this isn’t the entire, I wouldn’t say reply because it was all one sided, tirade, but it is the highlights:
“No I wont’t stop fucking talking. Fuck off, it’s my own fucking show with my fucking name on it. You fuck off. It’s called free will, it’s called comedy if you don’t like it something’s wrong with you. You’re at the wrong show, 311 don’t play till next week. Siddowwwwwn,
“Sometimes I take a minute to rest my voice between songs because I can’t sing 22 songs in a row.
“And I have to put up with this fucking asshole who is like ‘stop talking, start playing’. That’s why you’re here without a girlfriend, because you’re a fucking prick… fuck you, all my songs hate you. All my records just burn up when you touch them. I’m sorry, am I talking too much? This songs called “If anything I say now is for you fucking prick.” I used to live here for eleven fucking years, say that to me on the fucking subway and this is what happens… yeaaaaah…”
I hope it reads half as road raged as it sounded. Me? I loved it for two reasons:
1 – I’d rather mean Ryan who means it than nice Ryan who doesn’t
2 – He proves that the problem is not Ryan talking between the songs (though a three run straight up no chaser is a highlight if only because you aren’t jerked out of the spell) but because he isn’t saying anything. A 22 song set, why shouldn’t he shore up his voice? But for fuck’s sake man, you’ve just released maybe your third, definitely your fourth best album ever and it is a heartbreaker about your divorce, cracking jokes between songs is a major distraction. He is right, it is his name and his choice and he gets one vote but we, the audience , share one vote between 1500 of us and that one vote questioned his choices (By the way, I also figured out why he would improvise a song based upon a word somebody calls out: it is to let loose his subconscious, the same way he explained how he sometimes writes lyrics by opening books on a random page and free associating based upon a random line on a page).
It is a testament to how great the show is that while an annoyance, nothing can seriously derail a set so strong. Ryan sounds terrific, he performs terrific, this isn’t Americana -even the two acoustic songs aren’t Americana, unless you consider Neil Young and Noel Gallagher Americana. The difference between the Cardinals and his current band is the difference between country rock and rock, these are straight 70s rockers killing singer-songwriter Geffen records-y classic rock. every song off the new album is the best song you’ve heard in your life. Highlights? How about why didn’t he give me “Shiver And Shake”? Never mind let’s stick with the good stuff: from the hark hell comes “Do You Still Love Me?” to the harp downer “Anything I Say To You Now,” it all happens but you are there. Lots of highlights, all of it really, but “Magnolia Mountain” is a jazz influenced jam like the Grateful Dead, with Ryan cracking wise, “Steely Dan are spitting on us now.” A rare (for me anyway -I can’t remember hearing it since he opened for Oasis at MSG on their final tour) “Cold Roses”, and an always a pleasure “When The Stars Come Down”. And every single new song. and the rest, of course…
It is really a shame this didn’t play out better, and I don’t think it is just me who doesn’t much care for the distancing effect of Ryan’s jokes. I was dying to hear the new songs in a live setting, and I am happy I did, and if I was in town I think I’d head back down to Rough Trade tonight where he plays again. Still, with such a brilliant album under his belt, he should really figure out how he reached this plateau in his live performances. And fix it.