LIVE REVIEW: Ryan Adams at Berkeley Community Theater
I had seen Ryan Adams once before, at a Bridge School benefit concert. As great as the Bridge School shows can be, they don’t really give a fair glimpse of any one artist’s scene, unless it’s Dave Matthews. Owl Mag editor Jason asked me to review this semi-last minute, offering me a great opportunity to see an acclaimed live performer I’d been curious about for awhile. I’ve been listening to Adams’ newest album, Easy Tiger, quite a bit, only because I bought the ultra-cool orange vinyl LP at Rasputin on sale.
BEFORE THE SHOW: Ran into Jay Blakesburg in the lobby. The legendary rock photographer and preeminent Grateful Dead shutterbug had photographed Adams the night before at San Francisco’s Herbst Theater and seemed psyched about shooting him again. This was a good sign as I’ve got the highest respect for Jay’s taste. Also, there was a special poster for this show, of zombies outside the Community Theater, that was very cool, for $20.
THE CROWD: Theater seemed pretty close to sold out. The crowd reminded me of the time I saw Beck’s Odelay tour at the Henry Kaiser in Oakland: more-attractive-than-average Bay Area hipsters, happily convening on a fair-priced show with a massive young talent. (Tickets for Beck were $12, a decade-plus later, Adams’s cheap seats go for $25â€“$35.)
THE VENUE: Hadn’t been to the Berkeley Community Theater in a couple of years. Love the theater’s history (Hendrix played here, enough said) but have frequently found the cavernous hall to have some acoustics issues, usually with vocals. This was again the case on Tuesday, often Adams’s lyrics were muddled in the mix. I’d be curious to hear how concertgoers in other parts of the hall heard it – I was on stage right, about ten rows back.
THE SHOW: Just after 8:30, Adams and the Cardinals took the stage. Adams welcomed the crowd warmly, “Hope you have a good show.” Japanese paper lamps above the stage, Adams and his five backing musicians were backlit in moody colors all night. They started with “A Kiss Before I’m Gone” and the band sounded great from the start. I remembered reading an interview with Adams in Rolling Stone in which he professed his love for Jerry Garcia’s live sound, and the influence was immediately evident. Adams and his lead guitarist traded leads all night, stretching songs like “Goodnight Rose”, the opening track from Easy Tiger, out considerably longer than the studio cuts. Other Tiger tracks, “I Taught Myself How To Grow Old” and “Everybody Knows” transferred comfortably into live, jammy explorations. Other highlights included “Let It Ride”, “Cold Roses”, and the psychedelic thunderstorm show-closer “I See Monsters.”
Overall, a Deadish-in-a-good-way 2 hour 40 minute two-set gem of a concert that seemed to satisfy first timers and die-hards (see below) alike.
BETWEEN SONG BANTER: Between songs, Adams delivered mumbled patter about myriad topics, including frank descriptions about his newfangled boxer-briefs bunching up his crack.
He also rebutted a bandmate’s remark that he was on a chick hunt that evening with this gem about relationships: “I would never trust a woman who would tolerate my shit.”
Adams also deftly handled a heckler who was standing right behind my row. The guy was one of those “We’re at a concert, so everybody STAND UP” blowhards. 99% of the audience was seated, as the venue pretty much calls for that experience. When this one guy’s desperate yelps to get the crowd to stand were met with hisses of STFU, he took to yelling at Adams, who put him in his place with authority.
THE DIE-HARDS: Halfway through the first set, a very attractive twenty-something named Lisa noticed that I was vainly trying to record the setlist in a notebook. She proceeded to let me know every song Adams played, which album the song was on (in some cases unreleased, and in the case of “Blue Hotel,” it’s an Adams-produced Willie Nelson number that Adams has added to the live set. Another song, “What Sin” was an unreleased track that has been bootlegged extensively, the song led to extensive instrumental noodlings that took on a dark, Doorsish mood. Good stuff.
Lisa, was an awesome neighbor – great energy, friendly and helpful, and she smelled really nice when she leaned over to whisper set list info. She had been to Saturday’s show at Santa Cruz’s Catalyst Club and Monday’s acoustic show at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. She said the Catalyst show was amazing and the Herbst Theater show was well performed, but the City Arts and lectures Vibe was a little too stiff for the Adams die-hards. Lisa said the Berkeley show was peak Adams – the band was relaxed and in fine form, as was Adams’ stream of consciousness banter.
PARTIAL SET LIST: (thanks to Lisa in the seat next to me, who gave me the skinny on all of these when she noticed I was taking notes)
SET ONE (missing several songs):
A Kiss Before I’m Gone
Stars Gone Blue
I Taught Myself How to Grow Old
Happy Birthday, Summer Rae Brown (improvised, spoken word song)
Let it Ride
SET TWO (missing a few songs):
Blue Hotel (from the Adams-produced Willie Nelson album Songbird)
Dear Chicago (traditional)
I See Monsters