Ryan Adams in Berkeley: Yeah, I can't even pretend to be cool about this
I'll try and be nonchalant, but that's pretty much the best picture I've gotten to be in this year. Maybe ever. I got to meet Ryan after the Berkeley show last night, and we talked about some interesting stuff. He seems somehow smaller in real life, with very penetrating eyes. Keep readin', keep readin'. . .
The show itself was absolutely fantastic, and that surprised me because the venue is all seats (which I thought equaled sedate; I was wrong). Plus I thought I'd already gotten the very best from the Santa Cruz show (again; wrong). The Berkeley Community Theatre is a high school auditorium and had the distinctive feel of such, down to the drinking fountains and some undefinable quality to the bathrooms - I was almost expecting pink powdered handsoap. The difference between my own high school and this one, though, is that my high school never hosted Jimi Hendrix, The Clash or Ryan Adams.
As I was walking into the auditorium from the lobby, the usher was checking my ticket, and the guy standing right in front of me in a very anticlimactic way was Ryan Adams, setlist and Sharpie in hand. He was relaxed and amiable, wearing some sort of death metal t-shirt, a black hoodie with a denim jacket over it, and a pair of tighter jeans than any I own. He was walking around the hall conducting a "First Annual Audience Poll" for the setlist. This, compared to what I had heard about his virtual refusal to speak a single word to the crowd in San Francisco the night before was pretty astounding, and boded well for an engaging evening.
As I stood there with him in the lobby, on such short notice the first thing I could think of that I'd love to hear was the b-side "Halloween." He looked up at me with an encouraging smile and said excitedly, "No, think big. Think full band electric, me and the Cardinals!" I couldn't think deeply on such short notice, standing next to Ryan, so the moment passed and he went on to the girl next to me who asked for "Come Pick Me Up." I spent the next two hours thinking off and on of what I should have said. There are so many of his songs that I'd love to hear them incorporate into the Cardinals' current sound. Very nice idea from Ryan.
From where I was sitting (with a camera with no flash) the sound was excellent, and Ryan and The Cardinals took the stage close to 9pm with massive amounts of energy. They played over two hours with a quick intermission --so Ryan could go drink some juice, he said-- and no encore. He was definitely the most chatty and entertaining between songs as I've heard in a long time. From singing an impromptu custom birthday song to a girl a few rows up from us named Summer Rae Brown (it'll be the smash hit of her summer for sure) to making up poems about his love for Cheez-Its (me too, Ryan, me too) it was hilarious.
Someone in the front said something to him and in a stage whisper he replied, "Dude, I totally can't talk right now, I'm WORKING." He also joked about having a camera in his tie and being on "lady patrol," with the priceless aside of "I would never trust a woman who would tolerate my shit." But the best part was -- he kept the banter strictly between songs instead of right in the middle of them like he kept doing at the acoustic show last year at the Palace of Fine Arts. This was very good.
The energy and cohesiveness of the band was a force that kept me glued to the show even though I was seated. The three personal highlights of the setlist were an unexpected & searing electric version of "When The Stars Go Blue," a gorgeous performance of "Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part," which may have hit me like a fist to the gut and made me cry (maybe, just hypothetically), and an absolutely electrify-me-down-to-my-toes closer of "I See Monsters," which was even better than the one we got in Santa Cruz. Ryan writhed and pulled every note of that song out of his guitar like he was battling a demon, or wrestling with an angel. I felt it too. I left that show completely sated.
A Kiss Before I Go
Please Do Not Let Me Go (smolders)
Happy Birthday Summer Rae Brown
When The Stars Go Blue
I Taught Myself How To Grow Old
Let it Ride
Elizabeth, You Were Born To Play That Part
What Sin Replaces Love
Shakedown on 9th Street
I See Monsters
(the seamless combination of Shakedown directly into I See Monsters was astoundingly awesome)
My friend Sharif and I decided to hang around a little bit nonchalantly on the sidewalk behind the venue, just because we like doing that and you never know who you'll run into. In this case, for instance, we saw Ryan in the park right across the street from the high school, walking alone in the empty fountain and balancing on walls. He crossed back over to the venue side of the street and was sitting, leaning against the wall in the shadow of an enormous bouncer when we stopped to chat for a few minutes.
The box set of unreleased material is definitely happening, he tells me, and all next week they are working on finishing up the artwork. It's up to seven discs now, and he assures me that it's a lot of stuff that even us crazy fans have not heard. For instance, he said that the Suicide Handbook material that we have (and love) is leaked from the studio and only contains his acoustic guitar and vocals, but that we've never heard it as we soon will -- with a 16 piece string section, among other things. Also, I asked him if the lusted-after Elizabethtown Sessions will be included on there and he said he thought so, that that "album" is actually called Darkbreaker.
The logjam in my brain also finally had cleared during the show when it hit me that an awesome addition to his current setlist would be "Hotel Chelsea Nights" from the Love Is Hell album. It could fit nicely into the intense electric vibe, and add some swagger and cool class. I suggested it and his face lit up. He told me that they had actually been working that very song out recently to start playing in their Cardinals shows and that he was excited about it. Maybe we'll get it in Boulder?
I really couldn't ask for more. It was an excellent show and I drove home with an indelible smile on my face that won't go away.