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Ryan Adams at the Disney concert Hall on Saturday, February 18th, 2012

I had missed Ryan Adams at the Masonic lodge in Hollywood Forever cemetery last October, tickets had sold out faster than you can say ticketbastard, but I was not about to miss him again during his two concerts at the Disney Concert Hall.

 First of all, the place is breathtaking, not overwhelmingly big, but warm and cozy with lots of clear wood and colorful seats. My seat was in the Orchestra section, located in an almost vertical wall above the stage on its right side; I never go to these fancy places, it is too beautiful, too clean and neat, almost too modern-church-like, but I will not complain, the musical experience was amazing.

  The night before, the surprise opening guest was… Val Kilmer dressed as Mark Twain, and on Saturday night, Gary Shandling showed up at 8 pm sharp as another surprising opener for a Ryan Adams show. He was kind of funny and I liked his last joke giving a solution to musicians forever condemned to be alone in bed because constantly touring: ‘I shave one of my legs!’ He added that he and Ryan had been friends since he told him the joke,… who'd gave guessed?

 I have not listened to Ryan Adams enough, I had a hard time to identify the titles of the songs, but most of them sounded familiar. He looked so small on the stage of this large arena-church-like place, and I felt a little frustrated to not being closer. After all he is someone who sings these intimate songs and I couldn’t even clearly see his face or what was written on his t-shirt, but the sound was so perfect and the acoustic so crystalline, that you could have heard Ryan Adams’ slightest sighs.

 I had never seen him live, and I found him very good, totally at home in the high-ceiling 2,200-seat hall, arriving with a cup of tea and wearing his signature denim jacket. He could have been completely lost on this stage, alone for several hours, but he eventually knew how to occupy the whole space, using the three mics and the music stands installed, turning around in order to face each side of the audience at one moment of the show.

 Though I saw some people all dressed-up, even women wearing gowns, the night had this casual atmosphere, as if we were in one of these Los Angeles small clubs, the only difference being the total silence. May be it was the high class of the Disney Hall, may be it is how Adams’ fans behave all the time, but there was not a noise, the crowd was extremely respectful, except for a few people who were sometimes shouting out titles of songs or a heartfelt ‘I love you’.

 Sitting on a chair, he started the set with ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ from his beloved 2000 album ‘Heartbreaker’, before saying something about ‘déjà vu’, referring to the previous night. His voice was clear and strong and he played this way 19 songs only using his red-white-blue stripped guitars, his harmonica, switching to an upright piano for a few songs. It was simple and effortless, without any album multi-instrumentation, or in this first case, Emmylou Harris’ back-up vocals, but the performance actually showcased Adams’ impeccable and breezy vocals and the beauty and vulnerability of his ballads that sounded like old classics.

 This is the thing with Adams, if his songs are these sad, heartbreaking, I-am-doomed-with-love numbers, the guy is really funny, he was actually joking all the time! ‘Yes I am emotionally damaged and sad’ he said at one point during his set, even adding that all his songs were the same, and that this next one would be… the same,… ‘I could just walk on stage and sing Why don’t you love me? and say Thank you very much’, he joked around over a few guitar chords, happy to turn into derisions his melancholic songs always searching through the wreckages of his love stories.

 He continued with the more dynamic, countrish-foot-tapping ‘Ashes & Fire’, as he was getting warm acclaims each time that people were recognizing a song at its first chords. He was alternating new songs with old ones, but ending playing only four from his last album, like ‘Dirty Rain’, which sounded beautiful with its stuffy bluesy climate and Ryan’s voice going into some loud highs. He switched to the piano for ‘The Rescue Blues’, ‘Sylvia Plath’ (which he only started after a deep sigh), and a slowed-down sadder version of ‘New York, New York’. 
 

Amazingly, all the songs were perfectly and delicately performed by someone who was managing to be very focused during the execution but loose and easy going in between. But he showed his romantic side when he dedicated ‘Chains Of Love’ to his ‘special lady’, who should ‘go straight to heaven to have married him’.

 He was taking his time between the songs, tuning his guitar and talking, yes talking a lot, with a lot of funny F-bombs, sometimes mumbling, so, being in an orchestra seat, I was receiving the laughs of the front row people before having fully understood when he had said. But he was in a great spirit, and the talking was in fact turning into a lot of self-deprecating rambling that sounded funny because he was the one saying it. He joked about the clock on the side of the stage being unplugged last night, explaining he went over the time on Friday night, ‘I played here last night. I started telling jokes,… about my cat’ he said taking a deep breath. ‘I am still depressed from last night’ he said even later. But his cat was actually the subject of a funny interlude he played on piano, a sort of funny crazy love song for the feline that he sang with a low, frightened and almost paranoid voice, ‘You’re an emotional genius, Mr. Cat’…‘Soft as fuck’… ‘The Indiana Jones of soft’…

 In the middle of the show, someone screamed the title of a song, then another person yelled ‘I love you’, and Ryan started an improvised mini-song about ‘People with Tourette’, who ‘just say shit’,… before starting ‘Everybody Knows’, and addressing to the guy who was still shouting the same title, ‘It is not that one’; he had a few of these improvised-on-the-spot numbers, and he was hilarious.

 During ‘English Girls Approximately’, he suddenly stopped in the middle of the song, did a few chords of Black Sabbath’s ‘Iron Man’, and re-started the song saying he was usually more professional than that. 
 

Among his rootsy music numbers, he even dug into the Whiskeytown’s catalogue, playing ‘Dancing With The Women At The Bar’ that, he said, his manager insisted he play.

 After a guitar accompanied-thank-you, that reminded me of something Demetri Martin could do, he closed the show with ‘Come Pick Me Up’, unplugging and re-plugging his guitar while going from one mic to another during the song, and came back right away for a one-song-encore, to show his love of heavy metal with a Dio’s cover, ‘Holy Diver’.

 ‘Turn around baby!’ said a girl in the back of the stage, ‘Behave yourself!’ answered Ryan Adams…. He managed to succeed at the difficult exercise to turn a concert in this cathedral-like place into an intimate show, having a direct and genuine contact with his audience. On Saturday night, he was actually a very lovable guy, who may have been thinking too much about cats, but was singing with a warm voice his quietly desperate songs, whose empty spaces were even full of melancholic chords.

Setlist

 1. Oh My Sweet Carolina

 2. Ashes & Fire

 3. When will you come back home?

 4. Dirty Rain

 5. My Winding Wheel

 6 The rescue Blues

 7. Why do they leave?

 8. Everybody Knows

 9. Firecracker

 10. Sylvia Plath

 11. Let It Ride

 12. Chains Of Love

 13. Two

 14. English Girls Approximately

 15. Lucky Now

 Mr. Cat Interlude

 16. New York, New York

 17. Dancing With The Women At The Bar

 18. Come Pick Me Up

 Encore:
Holy Diver (Dio cover)

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