Things I Learned I Want In A Concert, Because The Ryan Adams Show Didn't Have It
1. Banter with the audience: Often performers will utter nonsense like "Hello Cleveland" to whip the fans into a frenzy. Other times they will incoherently ramble. Either way, it shows an attempt to connect to the crowd. Adams spoke three times. First, to open the show, when he said it was good to be back. Second, when he mumbled so quietly nobody could hear him. The third time was through a megaphone, and the only word I heard was "haunted." At one point in the show, I leaned over to a friend and said in a stage whisper, "I wonder if he knows we're here."
2. Vertical performances: The band sat on stools for the entire show. Nobody got up once. The band was so low energy, a woman kept yelling between songs, "Show some emotion!!!"
3. Punctuality: This item makes me realize I'm getting old, but if the ticket says the show starts at 8, and if many people line up at 6 because it is open seating, then start the show at 8ish, not at 8:50. I could understand when Guns n Roses came on hours late, but that's because they were using the smelling salts to rouse Slash from a booze-induced coma--that's totally Rock n Roll. Adams is sober. What was so important backstage? Tea?
4. An opening act: Some of the worst bands I've ever seen (ahem...The Divinyls) opened shows. However, opening acts can offer great value to the crowd. Do you want an indelible experience? Have the band quit in midset, and have the drummer flip you off as he walks offstage (ahem...the Divinyls). Opening acts can be boring or terrible, but they rarely fail to underline the quality of the main act.
5. Use of every microphone: The band was set up twenty feet back from the stage, in a line, with Adams second from the left. Way up front, at the lip of the stage, stood a microphone that nobody was using. I wondered when he would use it. Would he come to the front and play a stunning acoustic version of "I See Monsters"? Would he use it when he strapped on the electric to play "So Alive"?
The show ended, and the band had completed their set without using the mic. I knew, I just knew, that the second set/encore would use that mic to totally kick our asses with awesome tunage. Instead, the band calmly reentered the stage, played two more mellow songs, then left. The lights came up immediately.
In the middle of the concert, I asked my friend what he thought the front mic was for. He said it was for the ghost of the old Ryan Adams.
6. Spotlights: I couldn't see anyone's faces, nor would I have been able to tell that Ryan Adams was the featured musician if I hadn't known already. It was atmospheric lighting that emphasized the mellow, Prozaccy mood.
Things I Realized Are Overrated At A Concert Because The Ryan Adams Show Had It And It Was Still Boring
1. Musicianship: The band sounded incredible. They were tight, well mixed, the harmonies were glorious, and the show was ho-hum. They might as well have walked on stage, hooked a CD player to the PA, pressed play, then walked off.
2. Playing my favorite songs: He played many of my favorites. Who cares? They were boring, the set was lifeless. When I saw Wilco five years ago, I rediscovered every song they played as they played it, and each song became subsequently better because of the outstanding performance (that show singlehandedly made "Misunderstood" one of my favorite songs). This show had the opposite effect. I like "Magnolia Mountain" less now, because I can remember how boring it can really sound.
3. Crowd participation: I don't know if I really mean participation; what I really mean is one or two morons in the crowd shouting "WHOOOOOOOOOoooo...." during every quiet part of a song. I'm not joking. Every. Time. Adams finishes a verse? "WHOOOOOOOOOoooo...." Adams pauses in the middle of a verse? "WHOOOOOOOOOoooo...." Adams singing quietly? "WHOOOOOOOOOoooo...." These types of assholes were at the Elvis Costello show two years ago, but Elvis told them to be quiet. Then he walked away from the mic and serenaded us, just him on the acoustic and his unamplified voice, filling the Big Easy with the achingly beautiful "Scarlet Tide." That's what a great musician does. He takes control of the crowd, or at least acknowledges their presence.