...Not the kind of wheel you fall asleep at...

Never Touch Anyone When They're Wet

Last night was the Ryan Adams concert at the House of Blues in Cleveland. It was my first time at the HOB and I was curious to see what it was like inside (being that it's a chain).

I was left with mixed feelings--the actual stage and immediate standing area for general admission was pretty damn nice (though I still need to start proposing that venues try out my idea of a 10-foot stage so that everyone can actually SEE the performer). However, there is a large area in the center for the actual sound-equipment that divides the general admission floor from the bar area--this is not a good idea. Neither is having a bar area, methinks. This only leads to trainwrecks--stay tuned for more on this topic.

Rachel Yamagata opened for Adams. She had a lovely heartbreaker-voice--a bit of scratch, a bit of shellshock, a bit of broken glass, a bit of longing, all wrapped into a voice that could shake the walls with her heartbreak. The songs weren't anything that knocked my socks off, but her voice was fantastic. She played for maybe 30 minutes or so.

After much fidgety anticipation, the Ryan Adams set finally began, and the screen pulled back to reveal a stage that looked like something out of a 1950's middle school dance. White balloons swayed on the stage behind them. Adams' band The Cardinals were dressed to match as well--one of the guitarists donning a prom-esque suit and large sideburns. It felt as though I should be slow-dancing with some pimple-faced and profusely-sweating boy.

Ryan Adams himself looked like a cross between Chewbacca, John Denver, and a muppet. Man, is that boy hairy. I could barely see him on-stage but quickly realized it didn't matter all too much since you couldn't really make out his face beneath the massive quantity of hair and facial hair curtaining him off from the crowd.

But man could that Yeti sing!

Adams' set started off with a few songs that I wasn't familiar with but soon kicked into To Be Young (Is to Be Sad Is to Be High). The balloons trembled with excitement.

Adams played a wide range of songs from all his albums and thankfully played some of my favorites from his new one (which you can listen to HERE--apparently a good portion of it was actually WRITTEN in Cleveland), including Magnolia Mountain and Beautiful Sorta.

The first batch of songs didn't knock my socks off--Adams spent a lot of time whirling off into little jam-sessions which typically don't get my blood flowing.

But about an hour or so in, The Cardinals left the stage for a break, and Ryan Adams did some sweet sweet solo crooning. These were the best moments of the show. Unfortunately, they were also the moments where the train that had been gunning along at 70 mph suddenly derailed and went screeching through a nearby town.

At the start of this quieter set, he busted into this beautiful fucking song about a man named Joe--it was fantastic and I cannot seem to track down any hint of its origins, so if anyone knows, *PLEASE* forward the information along. Just him and his guitar and his sweet angelic voice. And the voices of 100+ obnoxious people milling around at the bar and talking about sports and shouting loudly to one another--here is where my dislike of the HOB venue kicks in.

The noise was so loud and distracting that Adams literally had to stop midway through this heartbreaking and fantastic song to request not that people shut the fuck up for HIS sake, but that they shut the fuck up for the people who payed good money to actually come to the concert and LISTEN to the music. We cheered our asses off in response (I mean, why the fuck pay $30 to go to a concert and then TALK through the whole thing??).

Urban Legend #1--that Ryan Adams is a cocky, egocentric asshole in concert. Urban legend has it that at one show, someone shouted out a request for Summer of '69 (a Brian Adams song) and Adams stopped the whole show to walk out into the audience and kick the fella out. I had heard other horror stories as well about his pomposity. Pshaw, I say. So not true. The man was ridiculously gracious to the crowd in a way that made me wanna hug him, especially since most of the crowd was so rowdy and obnoxious and not deserving of such graciousness.

Unfortunately, fat lot of good his requests for quiet did. The crowd continued to rumble distractedly in the background as Adams started up again and began to croon in that way he does that makes your heart want to fall into pieces and makes your eyes swell. Some random asshole kept playing harmonica notes (how fucking rude is that, tell me?) in the midst of tender moments such as these. Adams did his best to ignore, but it was obvious that he was distracted by it all.

Soon he sat down at the piano and began to bust into one of my favorites, Sylvia Plath. The immediate crowd was transfixed, as it is obviously a favorite of folks other than just me. Midway through, as the noisiness clearly began to distract him again, Ryan Adams quickly demolished what was a foul mood that had begun to hang over the crowd of his fans by beginning to pantomime the motions of the song as he sang it. He made the motions of swimming ("And swim in the sea without clothes") and staring at binoculars to the horizon ("Out on the horizon and fading away") and then started chiming in with little Rocky Horror-esque asides that made the bad mood melt away with laughter. At the tender moment when he began to sing about this idealized love "getting him loaded on gin and giving him a bath," he interrupted with a comment to the effect of "but don't fucking touch me when I'm wet b/c I hate that shit"--and this sentiment closed the song as he sang it quietly and peacefully into a still tittering audience.

Here the mood started to look up again, thankfully. Adams played a handful more of songs and then announced to the crowd that he was gonna go take a 5-minute break and come back and play another 40-minute set. We were astounded as he'd already been playing close near 2 hours.

People milled about, got water to battle their dehydration as everyone was sweating from the close quarters, and then a disembodied and gravelly voice came over the loudspeakers that said "Ryan Adams would like to apologize because he will not in fact be able to play another 40-minute set. When he stated that he would do this, he didn't realize that he had already played for 2 hours and that curfew-time is almost up. He is returning though with the band and will play another 4 songs or so before he leaves."

This was simultaneously disappointing and heartening at the same time (disappointing because he is amazing live, heartening because we'd already been standing with locked knees and freakish cigarette-smoke inhalation for 2 hours and were all tired out). He returned in just minutes and graciously apologized again, saying that he was enjoying himself so much that he didn't even realize that 2 hours had passed. He then busted into his last 4 songs.

The final song was one of my absolute favorites (yay!), Come Pick Me Up. He asked that the stage lights be turned up all the way so he could see the audience and everyone swayed in time to the song in a state of comraderie and joy (apparently I am not the only person who considers this one of his best songs either) and we all joined together to belt out the chorus with him in this beautiful transcendent moment. He ended the night brimming with thanks and graciousness to the audience for letting him play there. It was a fantastic ending to a slightly-harrowing night.

Ryan Adams is amazing live. He is a crooner like no other, and his voice translates 100 times more beautiful live than it does on a cd. His stage-presence borders on affected at times (the smoking of cigarettes continuously through the show, for example) and sweetly charming at other instances (his imitation of Liv Tyler in Armageddon), but I'd no doubt recommend that you catch him live if you ever have the opportunity--just aim for a venue that is filled with nothing but mutes so that you can appreciate his beautiful quiet moments in the way they deserve to be appreciated.



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