Live Reviews

Live review: Ryan Adams @ the Temple Buell Theatre

Ryan Adams played the Temple Buell Theatre on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Pax-Am Records.
Ryan Adams played the Temple Buell Theatre on Saturday. Photo courtesy of Pax-Am Records.

By nature, the music of Ryan Adams is immensely personal. It begs to be listened to in the dark of night through stereo headphones, or on a car stereo during solitary drives. And while in past years Adams has hit the road with his steady backing band, the Cardinals, Saturday’s show at the Temple Buell Theatre was in line with the others of this tour cycle: solitary.

A delicate version of “Oh My Sweet Carolina” set the tone for the two-hour performance, which ran the gamut of Adams’ sprawling catalog. While songs like “If I Am A Stranger” and his version of the Oasis mega-hit “Wonderwall” felt appropriately intimate floating toward the rafters of the darkened playhouse — others, like “Let It Ride” and “Come Pick Me Up” sounded almost incomplete in the absence of a full band.

Through it all, Adams’ eccentricities took center stage, proving that the veteran singer may still struggle with performance anxiety. Often, his banter seemed sharp and quick-witted, brushing off audience requests and even poking fun at the woe-is-me nature of his work. (At one point, Adams referred to his music as “A hallmark card if it was written in disappointment.”) Mostly, though, his crowd interaction felt nervous and uncomfortable — all too often reverting to insider heavy metal and Sci-fi jokes.

In Adams’ defense, Saturday’s audience bordered on detestable. For the entirety of the performance, “fans” continually hollered song demands both real and fake, (“Freebird!”), and offered unnecessary commentary during every single song break (“Cool hair!” “You’re doing pretty well!”). The lack of decorum for a seated, acoustic show in a traditional performance hall poisoned whatever intimacy Adams offered throughout the night, though the set still reached fleeting moments of transcendent beauty.

“Ashes & Fire” and “Firecracker” were hearty and soulful, and a downtempo piano version of “New York, New York” eclipsed its studio version. Likewise, “The Rescue Blues” and “Dirty Rain” saw Adams yearning in the way fans have come to expect. Mostly, though, Saturday’s set was more affable than lonesome.

Opener Butch Walker played a 30-minute set rife with cliched lyrics and a feigned authenticity that, if nothing else, made Adams seem all the more “real.” Perhaps the one-to-one feel of Adams’ music is responsible for his crowd’s mild heckling — maybe he just comes across as too accessible to us all. Or maybe the casual atmosphere and heightened familiarity of Denver’s arts scene could use a polite “STFU” now and again.

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John Hendrickson is the managing editor of Reverb and a multimedia journalist for The Denver Post. Follow his rants on music and more on Twitter.