Ryan Adams

support Jason Isbell
author TL date 07/05/12 venue Falkoner Salen, Copenhagen, DEN

It's a Monday evening in Radisson Hotel Frederiksberg, and yours truly is forever alone, having gathered a grand total of zero friends willing to accompany me to tonight's rather special show in the concert venue in this place, the room known as Falkoner Salen. It is a rather special show not just because I am for once without any sort of entourage but also because it is a seated concert - the first of its kind that I have the privilege to attend, because headliner Ryan Adams' management have asked that no photographers whatsoever be allowed at the show, and furthermore because for some reason, audience members are not even allowed to bring drinks from the bar into the actual venue room.

Jason Isbell

I'm preparing myself for a rather mature experience then, as I find my seat among the theatre-sloped rows that have been installed in Falkoner for tonight and sit back and await the arrival of warm up act Jason Isbell. The Alabama based singer-songwriter is appearing alone tonight - without his band "the 400 Unit" - and is instead solely reliant on his acoustic guitar for instrumentation. He appears under dim red lighting with his face completely shaded by a small hat, and proceeds to warm the audience up with oldschool country songs, highlighted by an expert vocal performance, a solid understanding for the simple dynamics of acoustic guitar playing and engaging lyrics.

It's a solid performance, and it's tempting to just curl up in your seat and let Isbell's dusty stories wash over you in the darkness, yet the magic is somewhat interrupted by the many late arrivals that shuffle around the room, lighting their way with cell phones and looking for their seats. Furthermore, over the course of the show, it's possible to start learning Isbell's rather traditional approach, predicting that the more complicated guitar intricacies only appears towards the end of his songs, between the breaks in his singing, and it becomes apparent that his main strength is probably in his very immediate lyrics and vocals.

These are complaints hardly worth making however, as the show is classy and Isbell offers the perfect amount of between-song conversation and melodic variation to keep us interested throughout his roughly 35 minutes of set time, before thanking everybody politely for coming out early and treating him well.

8

Ryan Adams

After a changeover long enough to give most the time to queue and come back from Radisson's bathrooms, Falkoner is just about full by the time the lights dim again and tonight's main man appears. Ryan Adam comes on covered in denim and takes place on a little chair which is just one of the items furnishing his stage. There's a small table for his drink, there's a piano, two acoustic guitars and stands for microphones and his little books of notes and lyrics. The light is still dim and as Adams dons a guitar and mouth harp and begins, his face is still pretty much totally obscured by the shade of his usual shaggy hair. He opens with "Oh My Sweet Carolina" which he plays so quietly that it forces the audience into the reverent silence which is obviously intended for tonight, and I'm personally concerned with clenching my teeth too loudly, for fear of disturbing the experience for the two guys twice my age between whom I'm seated.

It's clever, because everybody understands right away that they need to be totally quiet to fully enjoy the subtleties of Adams' elegant American balladry, and as he continues with a small handful of songs - of which I recognise "Ashes And Fire" and "Dirty Rain" from the newest album - it becomes clear that Adams deserves his fame for being able to evoke a frail tenderness that you'll rarely hear even as the most frequent concert goer. Moreover, he displays a master's skill both singing, and playing guitar, mouth harp and piano, noticably working instrumental flourishes in more intricately than Jason Isbell did, and sending chills down listeners' spines with his voice breaking elegantly and passionately in his high range.

Considering the quality of the performance, it's no wonder the audience struggles to remain totally quiet and attentive. Thundering clapping, whistling and hooting breaks out following each song played, and groups of fans throughout the venue howl with joyful recognition when they hear the signature melodies of songs like for instance the beautiful "Rescue Blues". Adams repeatedly makes fun of these howlers by pausing intros and mockingly stating "no, it's not that one", at one time even deciding to improvise a 'new song' he calls "Revenge Of The Giant Robot Worm" over the chords of a number one group of fans seems particularly excited to hear the intro to.

Between songs the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist generally appears in a goofy mood, making charming, nerdy jokes with a good sense of timing: First he takes overly long moving things randomly about the stage, prompting awkward giggles which later turn into full on laughter when he precedes "New York, New York" with a whispered, piano-accompanied, long-distance declaration of love for his cat, complete with loud imitations of its soft purring, and when an applause gets especially loud he twists and turns wondering out loud if Ace Freeley of KISS walked on stage, considering the noise people are making.

Truth be told, Adams is generally hilarious, and I'm sure most members of the audience consider his antics a welcome break from the heartbreaking sentimentality conveyed by each of his actual songs. As much fun as he is however, you also get the feeling that the joking and the dim lighting helps Adams distance himself a little from his material and his audience, which is otherwise completely up close and personal in a strictly musical sense. This is a bit of a shame, and truthfully, it's the only drawback of the show, but the feeling is there that this could have been even more special if Adams had dared to connect with the audience on the same level of emotion that his music operates on, instead of repeatedly brightening the mood between songs.

Be that as it may however, the show is still superb, both in terms of the musical offering and the charismatic performance, and while it may be pre-planned when Adams forgets the opening line of "Rescue Blues" and has to hear it from a member of the audience, and when he later states that "the show should've been over ages ago, but you guys are honestly such a good crowd that I'm going to play a few more", it doesn't feel like it, and as a member of the audience I don't feel a need to go home and google whether he does this at all the shows. Nor whether the same is the case when he closes regular proceedings with his cover of "Wonderwall" and his own "Come Pick Me Up", leaving the stage only to come back after more roaring applause, mumbling "oh, I thought Michael Bolton had come on since you were clapping so much, but seeing as y'all are still here, I was going to practice an Alice In Chains song which you're welcome to hear".

The two hours of music that have flown by are then finally punctuated by an Adams-fied version of Alice In Chains' "Nutshell", and despite the fact that we have been consistently kept just outside of getting all the way under the artists' skin, it's still hard to leave thinking that this was anything but a very classy and very rare concert experience. Surely, tonight's audience must be thinking it's a good thing Ryan Adams has shown a desire to come and play here rather often.

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