As a big, borderline obsessive fan of Ryan Adams, one would think that I'd have seen him a million times by now. Sadly for me, that is not the case and Saturday, December 13 (yes, it was marked on calendar for months) was my first exposure to the extraordinarily prolific songwriter in a live setting. It was also one of the first really cold days in Chicago, as I quickly noticed on my walk to the Addison El stop. While there, possibly because I missed a departing train by mere seconds, I came to the conclusion that the "heating" lamps the city has in place at each stop are completely useless. Missing that train meant more than standing out in the cold, too. Montreal's The Stills, who were the supporting act for the entire US tour, and Adams had formed a death metal band called Whornet and in two or three shows prior to the Chicago gig, they took the stage dressed in disguise. Of course, before The Stills set, Whornet took the stage in Chicago and treated the crowd to a blazing death metal set. I was standing in the cold waiting for a train and didn't hear one note.
Ok, I'm done whining. Sorry about that. I eventually arrived about two songs into The Stills set. The up-and-coming band has been in Chicago four times in just a few short months and each time they get better, growing more confident and showing a better mastery of their tunes. A bit of Ryan Adams seems to have worn off on the young Canadians as well. This time around, they interacted with the crowd more than the three previous shows I'd seen combined, and they had a swagger that I hadn't noticed before.
After The Stills' set, the crowd erupted when the house lights went back off, signaling that the rock was once again close at hand. Ryan Adams took the stage in jeans, a blazer, tie, pointy boots and an electric guitar. He was accompanied by a five-member band - bass, drums, two guitarists, and a keyboardist/guitarist. Adams and company wasted no time in jumping into a fresh batch of tunes from Rock N Roll. He kicked things off with "1974," and hit three or four other songs before acknowledging the crowd. After a quick introduction, the band hit "Wish You Were Here." Then they played "Wish You Were Here," followed by "Wish You Were Here," and "Wish You Were Here." Get it? The first version was straight from the record, the second, a speed-punk 1 minute and 30 second version, and the third, a countrified twang-filled rendition. However, all paled in comparison to the fourth, and final version of the same song - the "Cookie Monster" version. Adams sung the song in a low, gravely, Cookie Monster-esque voice and replaced many of the lyrics with "cookie" (like, "I wish you were a cookie"). It was hilarious, and the crowd LOVED it (as did I).
The rest of the set offered a few old favorites like "To Be Young" and, of course, "Dear Chicago," but the most memorable moment had to be "Love Is Hell," the title track to Adams' dual EP release. He prefaced the song by saying, "this is from the Love Is Hell album that Lost Highway wouldn't put out, 'cos they're cocks!" About halfway through the song, Adams was doing the back to back rock guitar thing with his meaty bass player. The bassist pushed a bit too hard and Ryan went tumbling to the ground, hurting his hand, and throwing his guitar WAY out of tune. He got up, tossed his guitar to the ground, and waited for a guitar tech to bring him another axe while still singing the lyrics. When that didn't happen, Ryan tried unsuccessfully to signal the band to stop and was finally forced to shout, "STOP THE FUCKING SONG!" It was great! The guitar tech finally brought him another guitar and they played the song again, before quickly leaving the stage to a standing ovation.
There were some doubts as to whether or not Ryan would come out for an encore, as he was pissed about the whole falling down incident and had complained about having the flu at two or three different points throughout the evening. About 10 minutes later, he DID return all by his lonesome with an acoustic guitar and a huge smile on his face. He played a string of tunes from every love sick boy and girl's favorite album, Heartbreaker. "Bartering Lines," "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and my personal fave, "Call Me On Your Way Back Home," were all run through before the band returned to end the show on a high note. An array of lights that had been sitting idle at the back of the stage the entire evening lit up with a blinding white light as they launched into "So Alive." Ryan was all over the place, running around the stage. He spent most of the song in the crowd, either crowd surfing or dancing in a swarm of devoted fans. They finished to a second standing O from the crowd. It was definitely one of the most memorable and exciting shows of the year. It was spontaneous, fun and incorporated old and new Ryan Adams material. Thanks to John Silva and Janda Baldwin at SAM for the great night. Extra thanks to Michelle Cezan-Fleischli (also from SAM) for letting me tag along to a little after-show drink-a-thon with the band at the Green Mill.