Live Review: Ryan Adams in Boston

Where: Boston, MA (Orpheum Theater)

When: December 8, 2011

A part of me wishes I could have seen Ryan Adams live at the very start of his epic career as the crass, snot-nosed performer who always seemed to be teetering between a breakthrough and a bar fight depending on which night of the week it was. The one who would dish out incomparable amounts of attitude—sometimes drunkenly—to audience members who heavily heaved it first. The disheveled musician who unapologetically made every song seem like a cheap tryst that somehow left you aching for more. But on this particular evening, I felt like this would not be the Adams I would see. The opener was the extremely talented Jessica Lea Mayfield, who is as bright-eyed and bushy tailed as they come. And even though she has some of the most heartbreaking melodies around, seeing her on this huge stage—sporting a baby doll dress and an acoustic guitar with her angelic voice as her only armor against the masses—it was inevitable that her dreaminess would captivate onlookers. Her performance was artfully shambling, and guaranteed her a headlining show here in the near future.

By the time the lights dimmed for Adams, the focus was solely on him as he walked onstage in ripped jeans and a leather jacket. He immediately blazed through a wistful “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and then sang it again for those who missed his opening song. He was very solemn as he tore through his catalogue with the fearless vulnerability that has become his trademark, as songs like “Ashes and Fire,” “Sylvia Path,” “Everybody Knows,” and “Let It Ride” were performed with complete sepulchral balladry. Of course, he broke from his seriousness and interacted with the crowd, and managed to slip in Star Trek, AC/DC, and pop culture references almost jovially. But his biggest obstacle of the evening, aside from getting the acoustics just right, was battling an unruly crowd. From mitigating absurd song requests to rudely referencing Adams’ wife, the evening could have turned quite ugly. And secretly, this was the moment I was anticipating—for the bratty side of Adams to rear its’ head at any second. Even an annoyed concert-goer loudly professed for everyone to just shut up and listen to the show. However, Adams insisted that they could do whatever they’d like since they paid good money to see him live. But my hopes for any verbal recklessness were quickly dashed as he just smiled slyly and remarked he would complete the evening singing his songs the way he had planned–regardless of who liked it or not.

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