Ryan Adams At Hammerstein Ballroom, Saturday, November 22nd, 2014, Reviewed
“I wanted to make a special dedication tonight,” Ryan Adams said before he sang the final song of the evening “Come Pick Me Up” , Saturday night at the Hammerstein Ballroom,”I just wanted to say Rest In Peace my sense of humor concerts, I think you had a good run and I won’t be doing a lot of that in the future.”
As a rule it is important for a musician to interact with an audience, it makes it a special event, unique, personal, and it makes the audience feel special, unique and personal. But there are exceptions and the less Ryan Adams speaks the better off we all are. His humor had a spiteful edge, he belittled audiences requests for songs, pretended to mishear requests, performed atrocious improvised songs and for the second time in the last two concerts I’ve seen by him, shot himself in the foot with his relentless sub- Don Rickles blather.
It was apparent how big a mistake his “sense of humor” gig was early. Bathed in blue and red lights and with a very good band behind him, the first 30 minutes of the evening, in which Ryan didn’t say a word, flew by: Classic rock band bravado with deep beatific takes on “Gimme Something Good”, “Let It Ride” and “Stay With Me” all sweeping everything before them before a folk rocking “Dirty Rain” and “This House Is Not For Sale” and the greatest Neil Young impression ever written, the Cardinals period “Magnolia Mountain” and with the very next song “New York New York” waiting in the wings, what could possibly go wrong. Nothing, right? Try ten minutes of unfunny riffing on Slayers opening band at this very venue. The entire audience went quiet and Ryan went on and on and on. It stopped the show, it killed the momentum dead in its tracks and, to make the matters worse, the “New York New York was a re-arranged version for guitar and harp.
This was vandalism.
And it set the tone for the 130 minute show, his fourth out of five in the area. Ryan has been on tour through October with Butch Walker opening, and this was the night before last, a Saturday night in a nearly sold out Hammerstein. The set was staggeringly good, songs from all ends of his career, and including a new song and the only dog, again Ryan has a sense of humor improvisation, and if he had just shut his mouth it would’ve been one of the best concerts of the year, no doubt.
Opening, Americana singer songwriter, a guy who sounds quite a bit like Ryan, Butch Walker, made a similar mistake. He played the first five songs solo, all great songs, and the next three with a band, but it was so quiet at the beginning and nobody knew him so what happened? The audience talked right over him. Well, what did he expect? He should have come out loud with the band, won em over, and then quietened down.
Ryan Adams has been a different man since he married Mandy Moore and quit drugs, and who wouldn’t be? But perhaps the joy of true love has undercut him a little. After a rush of great albums all the way through the 00s, the 10s have not been as good to him. Stuck in sunswept California, he has only released to proper Adams, and while both are good, neither are great, the rest have been whatever genre exercises nobody bothered with. Still it wasn’t the material, not only can Ryan ignore his excellent new EP Vampires, he can also ignore “English Girls Approximately”, “Burning Photographs”, and “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad Is To High) ” with impunity. He can ignore two dozen great songs at will and still have a setlist most musicians would die for.
Plus, this band is as good as the Cardinals used to be: they are a ringing endorsement of the spirit of 70s rock, and guitarist and recording partner Mike Viola gets how to play these songs, think Ryan’s personal Mike campbell and you’d be close. They are so good, and Ryan is so good, that his monitor didn’t kick in till half way through the set where a gleeful Ryan could finally hear himself (“I’m gonna sing the shit out of this song” he said before singing the shit out of “When The Stars Go Blue”) and nobody even noticed.
Everything about the songs were a positive revelation, “Cold Roses” was glorious country folk, “Dear Chicago” blues pop, “The Door” as great as anything in his repertoire, “Lucky Now” a case made for Ashes And Fire… the set less had momentum and more was steadily perfect with horrendous interruptions. I saw Ryan and the Cardinals open for Oasis at MSG back in 2008, and he played 45 minutes in dark blue lights, didn’t look at the audience, and blew Oasis off stage. AND HE WAS MUCH BETTER SATURDAY NIGHT but you couldn’t prove it.
Well the great Ryan Adam’s sense of humor concept is dead, I just wish he had buried it a day earlier.