Ryan Adams at Benaroya Hall: A Review

Seattle is a wonderful city. I had never been there before this weekend but the hilly streets, coastal views, unique architecture, friendly people and delicious pastries, chocolate, coffee and seafood make it a unique, powerful and rejuvenating place that I was so happy to have had the opportunity to visit.

Really though, it was Ryan Adams’ solo acoustic show which brought me to Seattle in the first place.

When I went to pick up my Heineken Arts Festival V.I.P wristband the day before the show, the ticket box office clerk told me, “are you planning to go to the Ryan Adams show? Because it’s really, really, really sold out.” Was I planning to go? I took time off work, flew to another country, already knew I would be standing in line for at least three hours of my Seattle vacation and ultimately, my life — just go to this concert and be as close to the front as possible. Was I planning to go? Ryan Adams’ music means everything to me; since the moment I heard “New York, New York” in my upper years of high school and since then, seeing how his music has influenced my writing, my life, and the good friends and memories and experiences that have been a part of my life since I moved to Edmonton, I reflect a lot and think a lot about the ways in which my life has been enriched by his inspiring story, his music, and his deeply thoughtful, evocative lyrics.

My V.I.P ticket allowed me to sit in the third row. I sat alone, surrounded by many other die-hards who were waiting with baited breath for their hero and the night’s headliner. Ryan Adams was joined on Friday night by one Rebecca Gates, who had a soulful voice was not unlike that of Gillian Welch’s, but whose songs may just sound a bit more melodic on a produced LP. After her short set finished, the house lights went on and the final wait began.

Among the die-hard Ryan Adams fans, I sometimes feel lonely and even unwelcomed; they all know each other and they’ve been around the block, having seen Ryan Adams countless times while I, simply because I haven’t had the opportunity to do so, feel like the ‘left behind’ fan. Of the three times I’ve seen Ryan Adams (the second time, only as the opener for Oasis on their grandiose North American tour – their final kick at the can), two were alone, and two were in strange cities that I had never visited before at the time.

However, what I’ve found (and anyone reading who has an obsession or fascination with something or someone that is considered “obscure” may relate) is that if you are alone, you can truly enjoy experiencing your particular obsession in a private kind of way; it becomes a moment, or a secret, shared with only yourself. Particularly in the case of this event where no photography, cell phones or any recording equipment was permitted (and these rules were very strictly enforced in fact), it was very personal; and anyone not privy to sitting in Benaroya Hall that night simply missed this show in its entirety.

And what a show it was.

When Ryan Adams walked out on stage, the room full of surprisingly energetic fans broke out into a series of loud, uproarious cheers and clapping and stomping, responded to by Adams’ humble bowing and his fantastically warm smile. He took off his leather jacket, sat on a chair, placed his mouth harp on and picked up his guitar, and mumbled “I’m just gonna start,” before breaking out the opening track of the evening, “Oh, My Sweet Carolina” with a sweetly emotive timbre that reduced the screaming crow d into a careful, stunned silence.  I thought in my mind that this would be a rigid, quiet, moody show that would be beautiful, but was not to be messed with. But I quickly realized, when after the first song, Adams referred to Benaroya Hall as looking like a “Jawa Machine”, that I was wrong.

Adams hit the ground running with all kinds of charming banter in between songs, from the witty to the ridiculous; unlike Adams’ reputation due to the crazy and even at times, mean-spirited gigs of his youth, the schizophrenia of the evening was merely the result of Adams’ glorious setlist and heartfelt, down-to-earth vocals, combined with his self-deprecating comments and his bizarre but undeniably likeable sense of humour. It was both strange and wonderful to hear him propose chats about Kiss records of the 80s over bagels with ‘The Man With the Loudest Voice in Seattle’ and enjoy a hilarious improvised tune (one of many memorable highlights of the evening), “Psychic Cheetah”, and then see him quietly move everyone in the crowd with some of his most heartbreaking tunes such as “Why Do They Leave?”, “Withering Heights”, and “Please Do Not Let Me Go”. I’ve heard of Ryan Adams putting hecklers in their place when they yell out requests for well-known Adams tunes like “Wonderwall” and “Come Pick Me Up” but the closest Adams came to anger at Friday’s phenomenal show was saying to a “Wonderwall” requester, “don’t make me turn this car around” which seemed to silence them pretty quickly. These are reasons why I’ve always loved Ryan Adams; he always allows you to expect the unexpected, to laugh while crying, and to be as invested in his music as you are in his warm, incredibly funny personality.

I came to Seattle, Washington on my 25th birthday to see my favourite artist in concert and enjoy some of my all-time favourite songs. What I walked away with was a totally enjoyable, engrossing evening filled with music and laughs and a collective togetherness of a crowd who were truly appreciative of Ryan Adams’ humour, talent and catalogue. At one point during the show, a woman called out, “I LOVE YOUR MUSIC, DARLING!” to which Adams responded, “well… you’ve come to the right place. I’m doing a show right now” before he cracked himself up so much, he needed to compose himself before continuing. I’m a huge, huge, HUGE fan of his, and on Friday night, I’ve never loved him more.

After his impressively wonderful encore, he went off on a hurried but grateful tangent that was just barely heard over the heavy thicket of clapping and cheering of an audience on their feet, in which he thanked every individual he ‘spoke with’ over the course of the evening; I also heard him, scarcely, thanking each individual fan that he could see in plain sight from where he was standing before bowing and thanking “everyone he may have missed”.

If you ever have the opportunity to see Ryan Adams in concert, I would strongly suggest you do. He’s a music lover’s musician; an appreciative, amazingly talented performer who can bring an energetic crowd to their feet with just himself, a stool, two guitars, a harmonica, a piano, and a jack o’lantern.

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6 thoughts on “Ryan Adams at Benaroya Hall: A Review

  1. Now this is a review… much better than that one Ryan posted. Can’t believe that woman! Lucky you are to have seen him 3 times. I too am a sole fan amongst the people I know. I imagine if he ever comes to my area I too will be sitting alone amongst strangers. Worth it. 😛

  2. Don’t feel alone. Join the discussion with the big happy groups of fans. Otherwise we’ll never get to know you! I have to put myself out there too as I’ve only met a few others from what my sister calls my Ryan Adams Social Networking. But I always have fun at the shows. You and I are even with 3 shows under our belts. I hope someone will give us a recording of psychic cheetah.

  3. Well said, and I wished i could have met you! After 30+ shows, I am still a newbie in my heart. Ryan is so much fun, and an incredible artist, writer, song maker, smile breaker…. and sweet too, as I have met him a few times.. he is a gem. Love goes round and he keeps us happy, with evolving and shedding, and evolving again….

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