Ryan Adams – Civic Theatre March 8, 2012

I’ve seen Ryan Adams perform live twice before this show at Auckland’s Civic Theatre. The first time was in 2004, at the Austin City Limits Festival. There, he was friendly, engaging and witty. Three years later, at Auckland’s Bruce Mason Centre, he and The Cardinals played in almost total darkness, while battling verbally with the crowd. He was not a happy camper. So, which Ryan Adams would we see tonight?

Before we found out, former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell warmed up the crowd with a 40-minute set. As he announced when he strode on stage, he is from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It was just Isbell and his acoustic guitar and he did a fine job of entertaining a crowd that was keen to see Adams. I’m looking forward to his new album, which should be released shortly.

The Civic stage was then set up for Mr. Adams. Centre-stage there was a modest chair sitting on a rug with a small table to one side holding a bottle of water. On the other side were two nearly identical red, white and blue acoustic guitars. There was also a music stand with a folder full of song lyrics (I presume). On stage left was a piano and on stage right, two microphones set up so Adams could play and sing standing up.

Just before 9pm, Ryan Adams sat down centre-stage to a rapturous welcome. He adjusted his harmonica, picked up a guitar and proceeded to play Oh My Sweet Carolina from his 2000 album Heartbreaker. The crowd recognized the song instantly, gave up another ovation and then went completely quiet. I’m sure you could have heard the proverbial pin drop during his performance, which was magical. The crowd responded with another ovation at the end of the song. It was as though both the audience and Adams let out a huge breath of air, and now, the show was in full swing.

Adams, dressed in a brown T-shirt and denim jacket (which he took on and off during the evening) then played the title track from his latest album, Ashes And Fire, followed by If I Am A Stranger, from Cold Roses, and then Dirty Rain, another gem from the new album.

After the first four tunes, Adams addressed the crowd for the first time after tuning his guitar for a while. This awkward time between songs is usually when Ryan Adams shows go bad…someone in the audience shouts out something, offence is taken and bad behaviour ensues. Not tonight. There was obvious mutual respect between Adams and the audience. Adams made a self-depreciating comment, introing the next song as, “the only song that is not appropriate for a funeral,” before playing My Winding Wheel, from Heartbreaker.

From there he strolled over to the piano for The Rescue Blues, from Gold and then over to his “standing” area, where he began telling a long, and very funny story about his rude awakening at his hotel that morning.

And that’s the way the evening went. For two hours Ryan Adams was funny, articulate, personable, self-effacing, respectful and immensely talented.

His performance, both vocally and instrumentally, was flawless and his repartee with the crowd was highly entertaining. He even made up a song, on the spot, at one point, based around his experience at a gym earlier in the day.

Finally, after a beautifully rendered version of Come Pick Me Up, he was gone. Adams returned for one more song, a haunting version of Alice In Chains’ Nutshell and then it was time to go home.

I can’t imagine a more musically satisfying evening. It seems that Ryan Adams become comfortable with himself, his songs and his audience. The result, at least on this night, was nothing short of perfection.

Marty Duda

Ryan Adams set list:

  1. Oh My Sweet Carolina
  2. Ashes And Fire
  3. If I Am A Stranger
  4. Dirty Rain
  5. My Winding Wheel
  6. The Rescue Blues
  7. Please Do Not Let Me Go
  8. Do I Wait
  9. Firecracker
  10. Everybody Knows
  11. Dear Chicago
  12. Sylvia Plath
  13. Let It Ride
  14. English Girls Approximately
  15. Robert DiNiro Is A Hawk
  16. Chains Of Love
  17. 16 Days
  18. Lucky Now
  19. Mr. Cat
  20. New York, New York
  21. Two
  22. Come Pick Me Up
  23. Nutshell

Jason Isbell set list:

  1. Save It For Sunday
  2. Tour Of Duty
  3. Goddamn Lonely Love
  4. Streetlights
  5. The Blue
  6. Alabama Pines
  7. We’ve Met
  8. Outfit