Ryan Adams Reminded Us All Why He's So Important at Last Night's Concert
Ryan Adams impressed at Gammage Auditorium last night.
Let's get this out of the way first: This tour only has Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis playing. Yes, there are Rilo Kiley songs. Yes, there are songs from Heartbreaker. Yes, the show is almost three and a half hours. And, yes, if you're going to pull out your iPhone to take pictures, turn off your fucking flash. This bill is so much more than a few of your favorite songs and an Instagram post, however. The pairing of both Adams and Lewis on the same tour is a reminder of true musicianship and talent, and all elements came together at the Gammage Auditorium in a grand way Wednesday night.
While Gammage is a relatively unlikely location for a concert, better known for its theater presentations, it served as an excellent host for the show, with Lewis opening the night. She is a commanding presence onstage, exuding a shoulder-punching fraternal nonchalance, hip-popping swagger and full-on songstress, sometimes simultaneously.
Wearing the airbrushed outfit that embodies the spaced-out, Californian pastel aesthetic of her latest solo release, The Voyager, Lewis charged through an hour set full of huge vocal performances, with the occasional appearance from Adams on electric guitar. Whether it was the smoldering "The Moneymaker" or the swampy blues of "The Next Messiah," she stands on her own as a wildly talented artist deserving of more accolade than she receives.
When the lights dropped low and that barking, staccato chord that opens up "Gimme Something Good" rang out, Ryan Adams let everyone know he was in the room. There's no better entrance song than that, worth every ounce of its Grammy nomination, and that ripping guitar tone like Adams' own admission that this evening would be one to remember.
Adams' setlist played like a greatest hits compilation, stretching from Heartbreaker to Ryan Adams and back again. In the scope of two and a half hours, a princely sum for any artist, Adams could pull from 14 albums' worth of material dating back 14 years, putting variations and spins on some of his most well-known songs.
The Shining, Adams' band for this tour, is simply cohesive as all hell. The creation of a new incarnation to take on Adams' back catalog gave the entire set a different vibe while never detracting from the power of the recorded originals. Whether it was a slightly sped-up version of "Everybody Knows," full-on space jams on "Magnolia Mountain" and "Shadows," or a shimmering take on "La Cienega Just Smiled," there was at least one cut from anyone's favorite Adams era.
There is nothing quite like a live setting to also remind even the most seasoned listener what a dynamic guitarist Adams is. While Adams cycled through a couple of Fender Stratocasters and even a Gibson SG, it's not until he dons his walnut Gibson ES-355, nicknamed "Peanut" and arguably the guitar most associated with Adams, that his approach shines through. Maybe it's years of watching the man play it on YouTube videos, but Adams has a tonality and phrasing that's all his own, as much a sonic signature as his voice. There's a big, crashing moment in the live version of "Peaceful Valley" that is reminiscent of the swelling break in "Night Birds," which was not played live, yet manages to evoke the same emotion based solely off touch sensitivity and singing Fender Princeton Reverb amps alone.
As an anecdote, that's to say that while Adams' live set may structurally stray from the recorded songs you know and love, they are no less effective, perhaps even more so when they're laid out in front of you in such wonderfully dramatic fashion. Of all the evening's highlights, including Lewis and one of her guitarists coming out to accompany Adams on "Come Pick Me Up," a soft, keening "When The Stars Go Blue" had the audience singing back in a similar fashion, equally hushed and reverent as Adams. Sometimes it's not having raucous choruses sung back at an artist to remind you of how devoted their fans are -- rather, it's in the quieter details.
Last Night: Ryan Adams and Jenny Lewis at Gammage Auditorium
Personal Bias: I've been listening to these two in some capacity for over half my life. I turned down Fleetwood Mac for this. I drove from Tucson for it. This was going to be serious, dammi.
Overheard in the Crowd: Random girl in audience: "COME PICK ME UP!" Ryan Adams' response? "Not yet. You gotta fuckin' wait." And, of course, "Come Pick Me Up" was his last song.
Random Notebook Dump: Did no one here remember to turn their camera flash off? Why hasn't Adams rightfully read them the riot act yet? And shouts to the girl who sounded like a bullhorn behind me -- you were and your stoned boyfriend were so obnoxious that I promised myself I'd write about you.
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