Ryan Adams works his magic in a rough setting
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
“The other shows have not been like this.”
Ryan Adams, on tour to support his latest record Ashes & Fire, has stripped away most of what his shows have meant in recent years. Gone are the Cardinals, or any backing band, leaving Adams solitary on stage. Gone are the long jams, the ear-splitting rockers and, for the most part, the unpredictable behavior.
What’s left is an artist left alone with his voice, a guitar, a piano and a room. Adams, in a throwback to his first days on the road as a solo artist, is bringing that gentle approach back to his songs, stripping down the multi-layered ones down to its elements and carrying the show.
Reports and recordings on this tour have been magic. Ryan Adams has been fully in his element, joking and rediscovering his back catalog, and he was moving that along on this night in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre, a familiar venue for him.
Sadly, not everyone in the building was on board for a quiet, respectful night. Like spoiled, attention-starved children, enough fans turned the night into an exercise in drowning out the drunkest and rudest while trying to pay attention to Adams.
The real shame is that Adams was in perhaps his finest form, certainly the best I’ve ever seen him. His playing was intricate, soft and bursting with heart. He was funny and, for the most part, in a fun mood. And his voice absolutely soared. On songs like “If I Am a Stranger” and “Let it Ride,” he was in full command, displaying a pure power and range so rare to the genre. It was beautiful, pure and without distortion. His voice is his finest instrument, and he’s never sounded so finely tuned.
Between sound issues and the fact that a quarter of the crowd wasn’t yet seated, he wound up playing “Oh My Sweet Carolina” again five songs in. The crowd seemed better for a stretch, quieting down while the sound issues, obviously bothering him on stage, stopped being much of an issue for the listener.
Dropped into the middle of his set, Ryan Adams paid tribute to Boston's musical legacy, playing a loving rendition of Galaxie 500's "Blue Thunder," and later joking about his difficulty in trying to learn Dinosaur Jr.'s "The Wagon" on short notice.
But, thanks to an extremely vocal minority, Boston did little to repay the sentiment. Cat calls, loud chatting in the back and frequent trips up and down the aisles quickly became the norm. The thought of behaving this way at a movie or a play is abhorrent; why it was okay for an intimate acoustic setting is beyond this writer.
Audience: “Tennessee Sucks!”
Audience: “Wish You Were Here!”
Audience: “Shut up and let Ryan do whatever he wants!”
Adams: “No, man, it’s their show. They can yell, they can scream, they can do whatever they want. I’m still doing these songs, if they want to do whatever. They paid, man.”
I love Boston. At it’s best, it’s a city teeming with camaraderie, a proud, tight-knit community with fierce loyalty and an edge that keeps everyone honest. But sometimes, it spills over, the line blurred between an intimate acoustic performance and a Bruins game across town. Sometimes, it’s not about Boston, it’s about appreciating the music and giving an artist the chance to breathe and perform.
It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, I suppose. When that happens, the experience is sullied, and a poor reputation grows. It would be nice to see this city remember that lesson.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org