Ryan Adams: A Man out of Control

A good friend of mine, Joe, wrote a review of the recent Ryan Adams show at the Commodore Ballroom here in Vancouver. I didn’t go to the show, but I’m reposting Joe’s review both because the review is good, but more importantly, it sounds just so crazy! Joe’s review follows:

Update: Apparently, the rest of Ryan Adams’ tour has been cancelled “due to illness”

To call Ryan Adams’ show at the Commodore last night “uneven” would be very
kind indeed. He was at various points annoying, hilarious and pathetic.
But there were also some inspired moments. And given that this show was a
bit like the proverbial car crash, it was hard not to watch.

The opening act was Jesse Matlin, some neo-New Waver from the States. We
only caught the last two songs which was fine with me. One of these two was
a cover of Helpless by Neil Young. Where does he get the balls?? Anyway,
he wore a tie; ’nuff said.

Bad boy Ryan came out with his 3-piece band looking like a down-on-his-luck
Robert Smith from the Cure (never a good association for me). Apparently
there are no barbers on this tour. He sported sunglasses instead of
mascara. He opened with Beautiful Sorta from the new album. A good, upbeat
choice I thought. But then he launched into a long durge I had never heard
before (and I don’t think anyone else had either; he probably wrote it at
sound check) that sounded like Sabbath on ‘ludes. Talk about a momentum

He proceeded to do the next 10 songs or so without saying anything more than
“thank you” in between songs. And he only did that a couple of times. But
that is not to say he was doing well in terms of pacing. In between every
song he spent a minute or so tuning up. (Note to Ryan: before the next
tour, hire a decent guitar tech. Tuning isn’t something you should have to
do onstage and it is not something we should have to hear!)

His lengthy breaks between songs gave lots of time for the more mischievous
folks in the crowd to start the taunt: “Summer of ’69!”…”Summer of
What?”…”Shut up!” was basically how it went. But he didn’t take the bait
and ignored it completely — for the time being at least.

Then, about 45 mins into the show, whatever drugs Ryan is currently on
appeared to kick in and he started babbling non-stop between songs. Some of
it was very funny. He did a monologue on what various people have told him
they have read about him (or anything) on the internet — “I saw it on the
computers” or “it’s on the computers” was the repeated refrain. Then he
started giving out random would-be website addresses:

When he wasn’t doing the Yuk-Yuk’s routine he did some good versions of some
of his better tunes, including Please Don’t Let Me Go where he fiddled
around with the melody, Dylan-style. But the longer the show went, the less
likely it was that he would do a song from start to finish without fucking
it up or stopping it and starting again. For example, it took him about 15
mins to get through a solo acoustic version of Wonderwalls by Oasis. He
basically played it twice at about 5 different tempos. He had someone come
out to accompany him on piano for Sylvia Plath so he could sing it
unencumbered by an instrument, lounge-style. But the piano player didn’t
quite know the chords amd messed it up pretty bad. He did a decent version
of Blossom, another new tune. I think he was also throwing in a healthy
number of songs from the new, new CD, September (he definitely did the title
track), because there were quite a few I didn’t recognize.

Of course, once he started talking, the crowd taunting increased. He pretty
much asks for it the way he talks. He is the kinda guy you just want to
smack upside the head if you ever get the chance. In fact, he told one guy
right up front that HE should be careful because he was in the light and he
could see his face and would punch him in the face. It ended something like
this: “Hey asshole, I can get a lawyer but you can’t get a new face.”

Later, he went on a tirade about conservative types who want to keep pot
outlawed. He said we all just have to wait until “all these old people die”
and then things would be better. He made lots of gun-shot noises into the
microphone to help the process along.

At 11:40pm he announced he needed to take a break to smoke a cigarette and
would return in 8 minutes. He basically asked us to talk amongst ourselves
for this period of time and requested that no music be played so we could
exchange phone numbers until he got back. He promised to play til the
curfew, 12:30, when he got back (in fact he ended up playing til almost
1am). He came back in about 15 mins. He finished off the second set with a
couple of strong tunes off of Cold Roses, Let It Ride and Dance All Night.
That was probably the musical highlite. But he had to stop Let It Ride and
start again because the guitar player started the first time in the wrong
key. It seemed the guitar player tried to lay the blame on him to which he
responded in the mic: “I only wrote the fucking song!” When they finally
got through it, he launched into it again, solo acoustic this time, while
the band looked on like they just wished he would fuck off and be normal for
a change.

He returned with Jesse Matlin for a 2 song encore, one with the full band,
one with just the two of them (the latter one really sucked; he seemed to
have lost the ability to carry a tune on guitar by that point in the night).
Neither of the tunes were recognizeable to me.

Just when you thought it was safe to go home (the PA system even briefly put
a Beck tune on), he came back with the full band and launched into Love is
Hell. It was sounding great til it came time for him to come in for the 2nd
verse. He neglected to do so, instead noddling on the guitar while the band
vamped on the chords, waiting. Finally, the band stopped as it became clear
he had no interest in continuing that song. So he noodled some more and
then started into I See Monsters, solo. Eventually, the drummer and bassist
joined in tenatively. The guitar player was still just standing there when,
in between lyrics, Ryan said, “What the fuck Dave, you taking the nite
off?”. They eventually got it all together and rocked the heck out of the
rest of the song. Ryan climbed up on the upright piano that was at stage
left. He played guitar standing on top of it for a while, and from there
climbed on top of the speaker column to the left of the stage. He stood up
there for most of the remainder of the tune (while a security guy watched
nervously from the back of the stage) and then they finally ended it as he
got back down onto the stage and threw his guitar on the floor. Quite the

His combative interaction with the crowd is entertaining but you got to
wonder what it is doing to his career. For a while we were sitting beside
some kids who spent the early part of the show right up front (and may have
been doing a fair bit of taunting). The one dude came back to report during
Ryan’s smoke break that he was leaving and hated Adams now because of the
way he dissed his fans. He said that up until now he had actually bought
all of his CDs but in future he would be downloading — and I don’t think
he was talking iTunes downloads but rather somewhere else “on the
computers”. And Maggie really had a hate-on for him by the end of the nite.

It is also obvious that a lot of this ‘Mats-like onstage behaviour is a bit
of a pose. It comes across a bit forced and stale sometimes. Paul and the
boys were doing all this back in the ’80’s after all. Other than getting
off some good lines every now and then (see below), he isn’t adding much to
the history of bad-boy rock n roll antics.


More stuff I found “on the computers”:

Published in an Oakland paper: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

troubadour Ryan Adams rolls into Oakland this weekend, and early reports
from his current tour suggest his onstage antics still meet his
Replacements-caliber standards: disaster one night, sublime wonder the next.
Shades of 2002, when a drunken Adams fielded a silly request for Bryan
Adams’ “Summer of ’69” by stopping the show, whipping out his wallet,
digging out $30, handing it to the fan, and attempting to kick him out of
the building. (The fan was let back in and got to keep the money.)
Have the intervening years changed him? Maybe not. A poster to message board
VelvetRope.com reported a recent train wreck of a show in which Adams took
long breaks between songs, bitched ad nauseam about the sound system, and
battled hecklers — whom he has started to attract in large numbers — from
beginning to end. Days later, another correspondent reported that Adams’ DC
show was excellent, and the singer’s stage banter hilarious. Which Ryan will
show up here?

From a local Edmonton paper:

And if there was anyone who might test those limits, it was the (barely)
controlled chaos of opening act Ryan Adams and the Cardinals.
“If I’d known oranges were in this year, I would have put some in the
morphine,” said Adams early in his set, apropos of nothing other than
perhaps seeing a lot of orange shirts in the crowd. “Then filtered it
through the absinthe and then smoked it in the crack pipe.”
We’re paraphrasing, but only a little – the slack-jawed weirdness of what he
was saying caused a bit of a delay between the brain and the note-taking pen
hand. Was it a comment on his perceived bad-boy image? Or was it just the
morphine, absinthe and crack talking?
Adams’s set will likely go down as one of the most memorable in recent folk
fest history, though perhaps not for all the right reasons. When he was
good, he was truly amazing, like on the heartfelt Please Don’t Let Me Go, or
when he was shaking the hill with blast of hillbilly-tinged rock.
When he wasn’t good, well, let’s just be diplomatic and say he seemed to be
playing more for his own entertainment than the crowd’s. And the
drunk/high/insane thing … is that an act? Or the real deal? At one point,
after a pre-song preamble about soccer hooligans or somesuch, Adams
clarified that he wasn’t insulting England, just English people. The land
mass itself is without blame: “It’s not the dirt’s fault.”
It would be interesting to know what Adams and John Prine, who followed him
on stage, would talk about over coffee. Bet they’d agree on some stuff, but
Prine might be just as likely to kick Adams in the jewels for being a punk.