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As the designated opener for Ryan Adams on his latest tour, Butch Walker proved to be his perfect touring companion. Like Adams, Walker knows how to deliver charismatically and play wholeheartedly. “21+,” the first song of his set, was draped in quivery vocals and stark piano for maximum sadness. He acknowledged the half empty venue, stating “alot of Ryan fans [are] in the lobby drinking, getting it on….for those who got here early: thank you.”
Between lulling us with elegiac harmonies, Walker joked about how he and Adams met. “Ryan and I met on Grinder….no Tinder…Twitter?” After the audience chuckled at the references, he confessed that Adams agreed to produce his new album Afraid of Ghosts (due out in February) before dipping into the emotionally treacherous “Chrissie Hynde.” Walker also reminisced about the days when he used to play Boston’s Rathskeller. In fact, he called it a fucking shit hole where he often shared the bill with metal bands. After playing this town for 25 years, he reveled in the chance to play bigger venues like the Wang Theatre and thanked Adams once again. “Father’s Day” was a breathlessly flawless ode from beginning to end. As he closed with “Coming Home,” onlookers remained captivated by Walker’s vulnerable romantic identity emphasized by poignant songwriting.
Adams opened exuberantly with “Gimme Something Good,” the lead single from his self-titled album released earlier this year. His mood and energy channeled blues gritty indie rock with a slight tinge of self-deprecation. Love is Hell’s “This House Is Not For Sale” was more twangy and bracing than the recorded version; it was almost void of its original emotional resonance. When the crowd howled at the mere opening of “New York, New York,” Adams joked that those chords were the introduction to several of his songs and didn’t get how anyone could differentiate. “A Kiss Before I Go” and “Dear Chicago” made for dazzling arrangements, but the evening’s best song was “Shadows.”
The already beautifully brooding track was stretched out by Adams’ seemingly endless psychedelia; the man literally plugged in and played his heart out. However, the night did not go without its grievances. Adams had to check fans who: annoyingly shouted out requests (“I don’t mean to crush hopes and dreams but we have a setlist like we came prepared for a concert or something”), displayed impatience while he switched guitars (“Really? Make up your mind? Fuck you–why don’t you join that guy and start a blog?”), and didn’t understand his need for occasional pauses (“I play ten songs and take a break and have a human moment and talk into the microphone–you have something to say on your own pa speaker, little man?”). When he wasn’t at war with hecklers, he remembered his sole objective of the evening was to give us his hits with the type of manicured guitar heft that we are used to. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “When The Stars Go Blue” served as blunted musings. Adams’ last song, “Peaceful Valley,” was performed with such spiritual intensity that it could be used to sum up his entire performance: fans excavating moments of meditative bliss amid harmonies perfectly executed by one of the most incendiary artists of our time.