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Live Review: Ryan Adams, February 17, 2012, Walt Disney Concert Hall – Los Angeles, CA

Photo by David Black

Ryan Adams is talented at many things, but the one quality that makes him so good at all of these things is his ability to stretch them out beyond the point to which they need to go, but still maintaining a high level of amusement. He does this several times in a night of performing, but overall he’s done it in his career; every album he releases is more or less generally regarded to be worse than the last one (or, at least we can all agree that he has never matched his debut album Heartbreaker), yet he still maintains a strong, adoring fan base and he can still sell out venues around the world. He started this solo tour last summer after “coming out of retirement,” seemingly more out of boredom than anything, and has casually kept it rolling for months on end, consistently selling out venues in North America and Europe, while releasing a record in the midst of it. He played two dates in Los Angeles just last October, but here he is back again playing two more at a much bigger venue. Say what you will about Ryan Adams, but there’s no denying that he can make things last where others would have fallen flat on their faces.

Upon entering the stage Adams had everyone in the palm of his hand immediately, encouraging them to “get sad together” and then enforcing it by kicking off with “Oh My Sweet Carolina.” The song is the perfect opener not only because it sets the tone immediately, but it seems to be relevant to Adams’ career at this point; he doesn’t need to continue what he’s doing, which is probably why he retired in the first place, but he’s still compelled to go. Inside the opening section of songs Adams kept it mostly downbeat, while managing to place Ashes & Fire songs like “Dirty Rain” directly alongside Heartbreaker classics like “My Winding Wheel” without making there appear to be any difference in “classicness,” thanks to the utter earnestness and commitment with which he delivered the songs.

Things changed when Adams explained to the audience about the blazed-as-fuck Prius-driving Star Trek fans on Sunset Boulevard that inspired “Invisible Riverside” (both before and after he performed the song), and put the crowd in hysterics. He followed this up with some more peppy songs – including what might have been the highlight of the night in the rendition of the Cardinals’ “Let It Ride” – showing his ability to nonchalantly switch up the atmosphere in an instant, and then flip it right back again seemingly on a whim, which he did with “Please Do Not Let Me Go.”

His ability to switch from sad songs to slightly-less-sad songs without any kind of jarring was impressive, but even more so was Adams’ capacity to toss the gravity of a song out of the window in order to go goof off instead, which leaves you unsure of what to expect. At the conclusion of “Lucky Now,” Adams set down his guitar and sat at his piano, and collectively the audience prepared for something somber, but instead Adams flew off into a song in which he was singing to his cat (Mr. Cat) about how much he loved him and how much it annoyed him that his other cat kept shitting himself. This joke was hilarious inside 30 seconds, but Adams managed to maintain the laughter for a good couple of minutes as he went deeper into the Mr. Cat psyche. Then, as though that had never happened he wiped the smirk off his face and delved into a tear-jerking rendition of “New York, New York.” And, as if that were not enough, directly after that he then spontaneously reacted to the crowd by performing a goof off “Happy Song” about climbing trees and watching seagulls fly – once again extending the song beyond the point of the crowd’s laughter, but maintaining it throughout.

To conclude the set Adams treated his fans of all kinds. His newer or more casual fans will have enjoyed his version of “Wonderwall,” his hard core fans must have been delighted to hear him bring out the Whiskeytown song “16 Days,” while I’m sure everyone will have been captivated by the set-ending “Come Pick Me Up.” Due to his running over time (probably due to all his babbling between songs – not that anyone minded at all) he only had time for one song in the encore, and that was for himself and his fans that will love him unconditionally for eternity: a cover of Dio’s “Holy Diver.” And ultimately that’s probably why he still does it; because he still enjoys it more than anything, and he knows that there are fans who will love him no matter what he does – and he seems to be gaining more of those fans with every passing performance.

Ryan Adams set list:

Oh My Sweet Carolina
Ashes & Fire
If I Am a Stranger (Ryan Adams & the Cardinals song)
Dirty Rain
My Winding Wheel
Sweet Lil’ Gal (23rd/1st)
Invisible Riverside
Everybody Knows
Let It Ride (Ryan Adams & the Cardinals song)
Please Do Not Let Me Go
English Girls Approximately
Chains of Love
Lucky Now
Cat song
New York, New York
Happy song
Wonderwall (Oasis cover)
16 Days (Whiskeytown song)
Come Pick Me Up

Holy Diver (Dio cover)

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