We walked into the Ryan Adams concert at McFarlin Auditorium an hour late last night. It was like walking in on the middle of a film people were having trouble following, and two clumsy girls climbing over seats and saying “excuse me” weren’t making things any clearer. I’ve never seen a sea of people sitting quietly with their arms folded at a rock concert, but that’s the kind of effect McFarlin has on people. It was severely disquieting at first.
Adams was on the tail end of “Wild Flowers” when we found our seats. When the song ended, everyone clapped politely and sat in a kind of blind-date awkward silence while he fiddled with his guitar. It was as if we’d been set up with this guy we’d heard a whole lot of good things about, and he seemed kind of cool, but who picked this shitty restaurant? When can we head out to the bar? And then some asshole in the back yelled “FREEBIRD!” and Ryan Adams replied “NO BIRD!” Everyone laughed nervously, and he chit-chattered before saying to his band, “This next song is going to kick so much ass.” And “A Kiss Before I Go” did. Then he told us to go call our moms or talk to a cute girl while the band took a break before the second set. Intermission, at a rock concert.
I was supposed to have interviewed Adams the week before the show, but apparently word had gotten back to Adams’ girlfriend that I was going to verbally seduce him with thoughtful questions and well-timed giggles. So I’ll try to recreate what would have happened as accurately as possible:
“You still seeing that model and being all sober and shit?”
“No, she kind of sucks.”
“I have a bottle of whiskey and season 3 of Seinfeld on DVD. You should come over and we’ll sit too close to each other on the couch and then make out during the credits of ‘The Suicide.’”
“Sweet. See you in a few.”
But I’ll just have to take a rain check. And when, for the second set, Adams came out in a pair of knee-high industrial platform boots and a shirt that looked like it came from Express For Men’s chain mail collection. I have to admit, I was a little worried until he started channeling Freddie Mercury, punctuating overwrought sad-sack ballads like “Mockingbird," “Two” and “The Sun Also Sets” with full-on act-outs and hand gestures—no guitar for Adams on these, just a guy in a shiny shirt with a microphone, high school musical (not High School Musical) style. He even kind of sounded like Mercury. For “Goodnight, Hollywood Boulevard,” Adams left his band behind him and assaulted the front of the stage with fist-pumping goodness, and a faux-earnestness that earned him a standing ovation (photos). It was the ideal way to handle the fact that the man writes panty-droppers, and he’s not afraid to admit it. Adams’ goofy self-awareness-slash-douchebaggery had effectively eliminated the weird blind-date feeling.
After quipping, “I don’t feel comfortable right now,” about his outfit, then reappearing in a t-shirt and leopard print boots, we got “When The Stars Go Blue,” and the stars went blue, literally, on the towering screen of Christmas lights hanging behind him. I’ll take the chain mail, Adams, but pulling the cheese-ball blue thing was a bit much. He soon redeemed himself with “Why Do They Leave,” and my personal favorite, the cover of “Wonderwall.”
Something magical happens to me when I hear this song, which I know is lame because of all the great songs the guy writes, I have to like this cover the best? But there’s a powerful bit of heartbreak in my past that I associate with this song, so much so that I still kind of get wobbly when I hear it on the radio. The sense that’s most powerfully associated with memory is supposed to be smell; but there’s nothing that takes me back to being 21, holding hands on the corner of 14th and Third in New York City like this song. When Liam Gallagher sings the lyrics, “There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how,” it’s accusatory. When Adams sings, it’s heartbreaking. Slays. My. Soul. This may be the entire reason I like Adams at all; I fell in love to his music, once, and a little bit of me does it all over again whenever I listen to it.
Let me break up this moment of creepy sincerity by assuring you that, at this point in the concert, my panties had dropped so low that they were digging a hole to China. By the time he got to “Come Pick Me Up” during the encore—another standing ovation—they were somewhere around the Earth’s core, and after the closer, “My Sweet Carolina,” they were eating a nice bowl of Kung Pao Chicken. -- Andrea Grimes