Author: Laura Perry
Not every band could tackle the Super Bowl halftime show. Not every band could handle the intimacy of playing before only a handful of fans. What makes Breese Stevens Field an especially challenging venue is that it’s often a little bit of both. Last Friday, Breese Stevens presented Ryan Adams and his band with the sonic troubles of an outdoor stadium show and the atmospheric hurdle of a relaxed and inattentive crowd enjoying the weather on one of the last warm nights of the season.
With an energy and set list better suited for a smaller stage, Adams brought his trademark alternative rock to the mostly enthused crowd of adults and their toddlers. I did hear one disgruntled man shout “this crowd really sucks,” but I thought it best to let that claim lie rather than ask any follow up questions.
His stage crew pumped out large amounts of water vapor which helped to bring the visual drama and also made this audience member glad that we were not in an enclosed area. Luckily, the magic of a concert en plein air meant that, for all Adams was obscured by billowing clouds at times, once beyond the stage the patchouli-scented puffs quickly dissipated over the Astroturf.
The moment that seemed pre-ordained by the double-header of Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris – a duet of “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” a standout song from his first solo record Heartbreaker and one with accompanying vocals from Harris – came surprisingly quickly. I’d assumed they would save that until the encore. But, happily, the reason why I was especially excited to see this performance occurred just six songs in and did not disappoint.
Adams took a Soderberghian approach to the set list, alternating between old favorites and songs from his latest release Prisoner (director Steven Soderbergh allegedly chooses his projects according to the maxim “one for them, one for me”). This ping-ponging highlighted the divergent musical genres that Adams has explored in his many records, from post-punk ditties to crowd-pleasing Bruce Springsteen-esque anthems.
What makes people like Ryan Adams – at least, what has made the people in my life who like Ryan Adams like Ryan Adams – was still evident in his performance that night:
His obvious devotion to the process, legacy, and accoutrements of music-making (guitars on hand for Adams that night included a Jazzmaster, Stratocaster, Rickenbacker, Flying V, and a Les Paul).
His enduring on-stage persona of retro-chic geekdom, like one of the guys from Dazed and Confused made good (denim, heavy metal T-shirt’s, scruffy hair, puppy dog eyes).
The melancholy, anxious, sensitive, ‘whimpster’ persona that he cultivates in his lyrics, and the way his wordy, narratively-driven songs sometimes completely ignore the length of his musical line just to fit in the rest of the story, like shouting a conversation through a rapidly closing elevator door (see, especially, “The End” from his album Jacksonville City Nights with The Cardinals where the length of the unnecessary line “the waitress tries to give me change, I say, no, that’s cool just keep it” makes Adams hurriedly blurt it out over the end of one guitar riff and into the next).
While I will hope for a different venue, the missed connections vibe of this concert won’t stop me from trying to stay in touch. If Adams comes around again, I won’t pass up the chance to check in with a performer who feels like an old friend.