February 5, 2012

Ryan Adams shines radiantly at Denver’s Temple Buell (2/4/12)

Ryan Adams’ music has been woven taut and wooly through so many parts of my life in the last seven years, and writing objectively about his jaw-droppingly good show last night at Denver’s Temple Buell Theater is tough. For me it was a parade of ventricle-punching, flushed-cheek-inducing song after song, and it felt like it was just for me. I was off in my own stratosphere.

The show for me was intensely personal, hearing these passionately executed, pure renditions of songs I never really thought I’d get to hear live, and especially not with that much potency and perfection. “Wonderwall”? “Please Do Not Let Me Go” (oh my heart), right into “English Girls Approximately”? He started with “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and encored with a cover of Alice in Chains’ “Nutshell”? It was almost too much for this one girl to take. Just like my mix I posted on Friday night, this was a personal thing for me — no detachment, just marveling. Hoping for the best, and –for once– getting it.

I’ve seen Ryan Adams a handful of other times, in 2006 and 2007, chasing after the magic I heard in all his records that I learned about and then started gorging myself on. When I saw him during those years, he was alternately in a very scattered, rambly place the one time I heard him play acoustic (at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts) and long-form electric jammy, the three times with the Cardinals. Every time I’ve seen him has been worth it, in its own way, but I have never been as satisfied as I was last night. This was something else entirely.

Ryan was focused and amiable, sang passionately with a voice that is sounding the best I’ve ever heard it, and lavished well-crafted songs on the spoiled crowd for two hours. All told, he sang 24 songs — well, 28 if you count fantastic on-the-spot creations like:

-”Climbing a Tree In My Yellow Pants (What Kind Of Cake Will I Have?)” (a brilliant example of the kind of song he would have written if Prozac had been around when he was a kid)
-”Mr. Cat You Are Soft As Fuck” (a somber piano ballad about his pet he misses at home)
-”Mr. Heckles” (a sweetly soaring, apologetic guitar tune for the man near me who yelled “play the good one!”):

-a final “Thank You” ditty to us all, before launching into “Come Pick Me Up” with harmonica that felt like it stopped hearts in that room. Even his fake songs sounded really good, showcasing just how amazingly effortless it seems for him to write solid songs, even on the fly. Last night he played almost twice as many songs as the only other acoustic set of his I’d seen, in SF.

After the 2006 San Francisco show, I lamented. I worried that I would never get to see my favorite, favorite gorgeous songs live and delivered well from Ryan, since he seemed to be teetering and veering off in another direction. I worried I’d missed the catharsis, the beauty I first fell so hard for. Therefore last night was deeply rewarding, to see him pull all his skill and eloquence together, to wow the (mostly) silent crowd with a cherry-picked setlist of new and old, to make my heart beat so hard I could hear it in my eardrums.

Oh My Sweet Carolina
Ashes & Fire
If I Am A Stranger
Dirty Rain
Winding Wheel
Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)
Invisible Riverside
Everybody Knows
Let it Ride
Rescue Blues
Please Do Not Let Me Go
English Girls Approximately
Chains of Love
Lucky Now
Avenues (!!) (Whiskeytown)
New York, New York
Wonderwall (Oasis)
The End
16 Days (Whiskeytown)
Come Pick Me Up

Nutshell (Alice in Chains)
When Will You Come Back Home

Ryan rivals Jeff Tweedy for my favorite in the stage banter category. He was relaxed, funny, constantly talking to the audience (in that silent hall some people really ran with that privilege, yelling every blessed thing that flitted into their minds). But the night felt totally unvarnished — reminding me of the very best things about the house concerts we put together (the atmosphere of this one, in particular).

Ryan’s voice shone in this setting — the Temple Buell Theater has impeccable acoustics (we could even hear him shifting in his chair) and oozed quiet dignity. As I listened to him hold the whole crowd transfixed, singing these songs that he’s sang hundreds and thousands of times, I marveled at how nothing seemed trite. When the song started, he was fully present in the moment and giving it his all. His face scrunched, that slightly pouty lower lip wailed. Even when he took to the piano with his back to me, I could see his face reflected back in the glossy black instrument, brow furrowed. This wasn’t a mechanical night.

The warm feeling spreading over me during the show felt closest to the night my friend Andrew and I laid around on the floor of my living room and listened to Heartbreaker on vinyl. You appreciate the space and the sanctuary created to just sit and listen. There was nothing catchy or flashy about last night’s show. But it riveted me to my seat and took me off somewhere else completely. It felt like course after course of the perfect-sized small plates kept arriving at the table, each so rich and delicious. I left totally satisfied, glowing, and sated. Everyone around me had huge smiles on their faces, and there was a crackle of ebullience in the air. If I never see Ryan Adams live again, I will be happy after last night.

[photo by my friend Andrew, who was with me and has more megapixels in his phone camera than my retro-mazing Nokia. If you’re a visual learner, there’s a spot-on drawing here, down to the labels on Ryan’s shoes]

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  • Once again, you’ve made me super-jealous, Heather. Ryan was basically the entire reason I started music-blogging, and although I’ve seen a couple ‘Cardinals’ shows, I’ve yet to catch him in this element. Hopefully he’ll come south-enough while he’s still playing these solo shows.

    “The warm feeling spreading over me during the show felt closest to the night my friend Andrew and I laid around on the floor of my living room and listened to Heartbreaker on vinyl.”

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this exact thing – never with an Andrew, but still…

    Great write-up!

    Payton — February 5, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

  • Great review! Saw Ryan in Ann Arbor last week, he played a short set, here’s a review that includes another “spot-on” drawing: http://blogs.detroitnews.com/poptropolis/2012/01/28/live-ryan-adams-takes-it-easy-at-ann-arbor-folk-fest/

    Mike — February 6, 2012 @ 8:59 am

  • The sound of his chair creaking may be my most vivid memory of the show that night because I was so taken aback by being able to hear something like that so clearly. However, at the time, I did think maybe I was the only one who really caught it. I’m glad it made an impression on somebody else in the audience as well. What a great show it was! So many songs were played that I thought surely I would never ever get to hear Ryan play live.

    Callie — February 6, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

  • Fantastic review – absolutely nails how I felt when I saw him back last June. I too feared the chance had passed of seeing him at his purest and it is simply a privilege to witness such effortless genius. How refreshing that instead of being the curse of creativity happiness has actually enhanced his music.

    Tom Pattison — February 7, 2012 @ 8:59 am

  • Looks like a great show. I didn’t make it out but my friend Mike did and he recorded it. MP3s are here.


    On a side note another friend of mine works at the book/record store Black and Read up in Arvada, CO and he says that Ryan came into the store on Sunday and bought like $500 worth of Dungeons and Dragons books and accessories.

    SxPxDxCx — February 7, 2012 @ 4:34 pm

  • absolutely WONDERFUL. thank you for passing along that recording – i was wondering if/hoping that you were there recording! now i can hear “mr heckles,” “climbing a tree (yellow pants)” and “mr cat, you are soft as fuck” as often as I want to :))

    also, yes, ryan was tweeting about black and read. such a nerd. awesome.
    hope you are well and to see you at another seasonal party soon.

    browneheather — February 8, 2012 @ 7:58 pm

  • Gosh, you must have been a couple rows in front of us. Hope you didn’t hear me and my neighbor’s discussion regarding phone etiquite. Great show, pretty cool Ryan solo can sell out almost 3k seats. Would’ve loved to see Butch Walker but the Bizarro version of the phone guy bought me and my wife a beer out in the lobby. Total stranger. Beer. Fuck you, phone guy.

    Marty — February 9, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

  • loved this. thanks heather…felt like I was there with you.

    sarah sample — February 12, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

  • [...] Ryan Adams @ Temple Buell Denver, CO | 2.4.2012 by halloweenhead on Feb 6, 2012 • 12:20 am No Comments The show for me was intensely personal, hearing these passionately executed, pure renditions of songs I never really thought I’d get to hear live, and especially not with that much potency and perfection. – Heather Browne [...]

    Ryan Adams @ Temple Buell Denver, CO | 2.4.2012 - Halloweenhead — December 2, 2012 @ 8:42 pm

  • [...] The show for me was intensely personal, hearing these passionately executed, pure renditions of songs I never really thought I’d get to hear live, and especially not with that much potency and perfection. – Heather Browne [...]

    Ryan Adams @ Temple Buell Denver, CO | 2.4.2012 — May 5, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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