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Live Review: Ryan Adams @ Royal Theatre, Victoria – March 20th 2023

Yes, Ryan Adams. Not Bryan Adams. Very different.

Ryan Adams is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, artist, and poet. He no longer works for a major record label and under an independent label, released 5 albums in 2022 and has already released an album in 2023. At some point in the show, a man in the front row applauded a new song of his, to which Adams responded that it was not a brand-new song, but rather, a track from one of his more recent albums. When playing newer materials, he playfully called that man his “biggest fan” for the remainder of the show.  

I am not sure what I was expecting attending my first Ryan Adams show. It is well known that he can often play solo sets up to 3 hours long. He usually opens with “Oh My Sweet Caroline” (which he did). Adams’ latest tour has been a solo venture – no backing musicians, no openers. Adams took a seat on a stage lit only with household lamps, no stage lights whatsoever. This was likely done to minimize the effects of his Meniere’s disease, which can be exacerbated by bright and flashing lights however, I loved how it created a very intimate atmosphere- the dimly lit, quite stage. There was no Cardinals band, just Adams and an array of acoustic guitars and a piano.

I wasn’t sure what his stage presence or audience interaction would be like, particularly now that he is sober. Turns out, I was attending a concert AND a comedy show, fueled by at least 3 or 4 giant red bulls. Despite the high volume of energy drinks, the setlist was more downbeat like his most recent album. That said, Adams didn’t shy away from picking songs from almost every album he’s recorded. Adams regularly teased the audience about how unbelievable tall his Victoria fans were, noting most Ryan Adams fans are hobbit sized. He responded to the “yips,” hoots, hollers and “I love you”’s expressed by fans with a mix of jokes, rhetorical questions and self-deprecating humor. Given that I am getting older, it seems the fans also attending my favourite artists are older too. And fair enough, given my favourite album of his, Gold, was released in 2001 – a staggering 22 years ago. When he played some tracks from that album, I enjoyed how he rearranged the tempo and way he sang some of the verses – keeping the core reasons why I love the songs intact, but with a 22-year modern upgrade. I am also a big fan of anything played on the piano so easily swooned at all of those songs and was surprised how much I loved his cover of Moon River.

There was a fair bit of alcohol consumption at the show by fans around me, so it was distracting at times when so many people were entering and exiting the theatre for drink refills and/or bathroom breaks, particularly because it was such a quiet, intimate, sit down show.  I remain impressed by his guitar playing and vocal range. He closed out the night, as he tends to close out all of his set lists, with “Come Pick Me Up.” There was no encore, perhaps because it was past 11pm and the venue wanted to wrap up, perhaps because of some of the restlessness of the alcohol drinking crowd, or perhaps because it was a Monday night? – it’s hard to say. I do know that I will not hesitate at the opportunity to see him again live. I might however take the next day off work given that it is likely to be a very late night with a 3+ hour set. 

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