My infatuation with Ryan Adams started when all I knew was that he was a dude with a guitar in one hand and a cigarette in another. Like a good 17 year old, I ripped out his picture that appeared in a music magazine when he was in Whiskeytown and stuck it on my wall in a collage I deemed "hot menz." He was smoking a cigarette in an alley in New York, and seeing him Monday night at Zellerbach Hall seven years later with a cancer stick in his mouth only sort of made me fall in love more. It was something familiar, something near.
I was accompanied by my good friend Danielle, who has seen Adams an upwards of 15 times to date. Pre-show as we hiked through the UC-Berkeley campus to the venue, I asked why she'd invested so much time and energy into this one guy.
"I'm so in love with him," she said straightforwardly.
Hmm...okay, dude, I thought as we entered Zellerbach. I was late to take pictures, and the will call employee told me behind I had about seven minutes left in my press photo window to snap what I needed to. Agreeing to meet up later, Danielle and I split up, and I barreled down the aisle to the front, ducking into a front row seat and furiously fiddling with my camera. After getting situated, I finally was able to look up at my subject, and there he was: Ryan Adams in full effect, the messiest of bed head hair atop covering his blue eyes and donning a sweater. Never before have I seen anyone so comfortable in his skin; he looked like he was just being, which happened to include shredding his guitar furiously. I snapped as much as I could before getting kicked out.
I found Danielle and we began the night in reveling at the sheer magnitude of the show. Cactus cutouts were scattered across the stage, the lighting mimicking what actual changes would be in the sky. Adams and the Cardinals ripped into "The Sun Also Sets," Adams crooning "I wanna know how it all works out" atop an almost-bluesy vibe with his country.
Always with the hair in his eyes, sometimes raising his hands to scratch the back of his head maniacally or casually, Adams kept up the night with a perpetual smile, taking to the crowd in between songs to chat and reminisce about tour tribulations, old age, and his gratitude for the night's attendees.
"Look, guys," he said to his band and pointing to the balconies in the back. "Look at space frontier one and two. This is proof that we've made it. We love doing this, and we love doing it for you."
"Now, I'll play something totally depressing," he quipped among the giggles in the audience.
One of Ryan's gifts is perfecting the ballads as much as the "badass rock songs" - his voice can either be one of the most heartbreaking ones you'll ever hear, or one of the most sex-fueled, as evidenced in some of the more rock-oriented tracks with Adams behind the mic growling and producing such a throaty bellow I was almost sure he'd have to knock back four boxes of tea post-show.
After a brief intermission and climbing back on stage while a drum loop fit for a carnival played, the guys then launched into a delicious cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall" which illuminated Zellerbach, followed by thunderous applause. Soft "When The Stars Go Blue" also won over many hearts, Adams nailing the crescendos in the chorus as well as the melody.
He took some time to talk about Mariah Carey, and how much he was in love with her, telling the story of when his first full-length came out and being on the phone with the record label.
"I'll just call the record Ryan Adams," he said to the industry person.
"That's it? You don't want to name it?" asked the person on the other line.
Adams then recalled seeing posters on his apartment walls: Black Flag, Patti Smith, and Mariah Carey. The latter was on the beach, "being Miss Thang," and suddenly Adams had his inspiration.
"Heartbreaker," he said. "My album is called Heartbreaker," which I happen to know is a Carey single from around the time that album came out. Truth or sheer hilarity? Who knows...
Tearjerker of the night came in form of a memory. During "Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part," Danielle leaned into me and said Adams had dedicated that song at his San Rafael show to Michelle Williams the day after Heath Ledger died. It was hard keeping a dry eye listening to "For you I'd do anything/Tear myself in two/Just to hear you breathe...Wherever you are, I hope you're happy now/I'm caught in a dream and I can't get out." Something so distressing and yet illimitably gorgeous emanated from that song live, and I still get the shivers every time I think about it now.
The encore "Pearls On A String," played acoustically with the house lights on, only set in stone how much music means to Adams. It's so blatantly obvious this is something he was born to do, and that any other means would seem out of place. After the show we ate at a Thai restaurant back in San Francisco, and Carey's "We Belong Together" came on the radio; I almost choked on my food from laughing.
Thank you so much for the date, Ryan.
Quotes from the Ryan Adams show, January 27
01. "J. Silva, why are you splitting your head?" - to seemingly no one on stage.
02. "Whoo!" - imitating Little Richard while behind his piano.
03. "Oh, I'm definitely 30, I talk to myself. But it's cool, man, you're doing it in public." - to a heckler trying to get his attention.
04. "I'm at that age where the autumn years are coming." - on getting older.
05. "By set two, most people are pretty high." - explaining the difference in audience attitude from before and after intermission.
07. "No part of me is gay...except my interior design part. But, if I was a chick, I'd burrow him so hard like a worm hole..." - on one of the dudes from Minor Threat, after Adams mimicked the MT guy making the metal sign with his fingers.
08. Making another rock sign with his fingers and actually saying "RAAAAAAWK" very loudly.
09. "Let's go smoke a blunt!" - from a guy we bumped into at intermission by the beer stands.
10. "I wouldn't talk to you like that if I saw you in the lobby...telling you what to do and shit!" - to another heckler trying to get him to play a song that was already played earlier.
11. "Cardinal power: activate!" - to band who was still offstage after intermission, and who actually all came back to play together, at the same time, about four seconds after "activate" was said.
12. "You know those small little donuts? I like those...you get more chocolate per capita. I'd totally O.D. on Donettes. Fuck donuts...cramming them into your face, so good...oh, my god, I'm talking like a 15 year old." - after realizing his voice was getting higher in pitch after talking about pastries.
13. "Hipsters don't like me because they think I don't have game." - lamenting on his sex appeal.
14. "What happens when I become dead weight?" - to one of the Cardinals after he proceeded to collapse into the Cardinal's arms.
15. "My side projects are gonna be funky. If my next record sounds like "Private Dancer," then yeah? Then fuck you!" - on what the future holds.
16. "You do have Tina hair." - Neal Casal's counter on becoming the next dance revolution.
17. "I'm a guy, I have a dick. That was some hot shit." - on a Patti Smith poster in his house and remembering when he figured out he had a manhood.
18. "Oh goddamnit, I love Mariah Carey. I'll fix her up real good!" - on his secret love for the R&B singer, and how he would explode if he ever met her. Also important to note that he shared that he made Casal take a picture of him and her signature at Radio City Music Hall in NYC.
19. "Dude, she runs an entire sound machine." - on his love for Gloria Estefan.
20. "We're driving tonight [to the next show city], so no action...can you imagine? 'Hey, I just sang all those songs about seeing the devil. Wanna go out?'" - on the hard rock star life.
Photos by JENZ