See also: Why Ryan Adams Isn't Allowing Photos
Better than… Listening to Love Is Hell in its entirety on Valentine's Day because Heartbreaker just wouldn't be depressing enough. Unless that's your thing.
I guess I'd consider myself in the 90th percentile of Ryan Adams fandom when it comes down to it. I've done the basic stuff: listened to Heartbreaker within hours of being dumped, thought Love Is Hell was utter crap.
I've dabbled in some advanced level material: searching eBay for Whiskeytown bootlegs back in 2000, arguing with nobody in particular that Side 4 was actually superior to Gold. Even got into some expert level shit, like refusing to listen to 29 for three years in order to revisit it on my 29th birthday and see if that revealed its genius (it did not). All that said, somehow I've managed to see Ryan Adams perform solo three times since the last fall's release of his very solid Ashes & Fire, and after the first, two I left the experience surprised how very solid the experience is.
Truth be told, he was just as good last night at Disney Hall, but I've gotten officially superfan greedy, because all I kept thinking was, “Would it kill him to surprise me?” Like I hadn't been a 90th percentile type fan haughtily dismissing his actual surprises between 2001 and now.
It's my own fault for having skewed expectations about seeing him at Disney Hall as opposed to, say, the morose environment of Hollywood Forever. Chalk it up perhaps to the fact that the last show I saw at Disney Hall was Local Natives, who had a string section with them. (Where's the new record, guys?)
Thus I was expecting a full-on, suit and tie affair where Adams would take standards like “Amy” or “La Cienega Just Smiled” next-level with cellos and French horns and witty remarks about how silly people look when they play the French horn. And then maybe he'd perform “Political Scientist”? Finally sack up and play “So Alive”?
And yes, it certainly was the first concert, Ryan Adams or otherwise, that I felt pretty under-dressed, despite wearing a shirt with buttons and a collar and everything. Lots of form-fitting leather jackets and hat-wearing women in this particular piece, not to mention the opening act. That would be Val Kilmer impersonating Mark Twain, with a long monologue. Yeah, it was kinda weird and he did make some pretty anachronistic references to people like Satchmo but hell, it beats having to sit through Jesse Malin or something.
But the truth is, we are now clearly and likely forever in the time of Ryan Adams: Model of Stability. There are just things he does now, and even though he's never sounded better and almost certainly has decades of music ahead of him, there is an undeniable template. You know he's going to begin with “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and play “Come Pick Me Up” near the end. He kits his acoustics out with sweet Neapolitan paint jobs but no locking tuners.
I'm beginning to think he comes up with his best banter during the significant stretches of time he spends tuning his guitar (“this is the double capo, not to be confused with Hardee's Double Capo;” “Call me paranoid, but when I play guitar, I feel like hundreds of people are watching me;” “When I say 'rain,' that's just a metaphor for lightning”), even though he plays a single song in open G (“My Minding Wheel”) and everything else in standard.
And in that context, what was the big reveal? He finally played while standing up. Granted, it was laughed off with the same self-deprecation and second-guessing he applies to every decision he makes on stage; as he admitted, “large parts of my ass have fallen asleep.” Soon afterwards, to a loud woman in the nosebleed seats who screamed “I looove you!” he replied “You only love me because I'm sad in my songs.” He then proceeded to play an impromptu “happy song” in the musical style of Jack Johnson but the lyrical style of, I dunno, Gerardo. (“I'm not wearing a shirt…but I'm wearing a vest!”) Yeah, it might've been the longest song he played all night — despite facing Disney Hall's strict curfew — but the spontaneity made for one of the truly keeper moments in an otherwise pleasingly workmanlike night.
Personal Bias: Now, Val Kilmer as a Jim Morrison impersonator? I've seen him do that and it's way funnier.
The Crowd: The type of people who didn't seem to care that a beer costs more than parking.
Random Notebook Dump: There are people who were surprised at how Ryan Adams had the funniest cameo in the animated 30 Rock short before the Super Bowl, but they've clearly never seen Ryan Adams perform live or hear Childish Gambino rap.
“Oh My Sweet Carolina”
“Ashes & Fire”
“If I'm A Stranger”
“My Winding Wheel”
“Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)”
“Let It Ride”
“Please Do Not Let Me Go”
“English Girls Approximately”
“Chains Of Love”
Mr. Cat Interlude
“New York, New York”
Happy Song Interlude
“16 Days” (Whiskeytown)
“Come Pick Me Up”
“Holy Diver” (Dio cover)
See also: Why Ryan Adams Isn't Allowing Photos