Ryan Adams – Forum Theatre (Melbourne, Australia)
You love me? Ryan Adams asked one of the girls who were pushed up in the front row of the lavishly gothic, Victorian-era Forum Theatre.
I love you back, he grinned, and I apologize in advance.
As it turns out, Australia did love Ryan Adams. This was his first visit, and there was a genuine atmosphere of anticipation. A good portion of the capacity crowd of 1500 were committed fans, and the calls for Whiskeytown songs started before the last chords of Adams Stonesy opener, Rescue Blues, died away.
But Adams was having none of it.
Fuck Whiskeytown, he sneered, before launching into a brash, loud and rocking version of To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High), from his 2000 solo debut Heartbreaker. From that point on, Adams clearly felt the night and the crowd belonged to him. It was a stunning demonstration of sweeping rock star gestures, nervous energy, occasional self-indulgence and, frequently, sublime moments in performance.
After an opening set by Aussie pop trio the Icecream Hands. Adams and his band came on with a swagger that was quite thrilling to watch, striking rock poses with conviction and a complete absence of irony. Alongside this vicarious thrill came the cynical pleasures to be found in picking apart all the reference points from Gold, which comprised most of the first hours setlist.
It was almost too easy: Theres the opening riff from the Stones You Cant Always Get What You Want; theres the chord progression from The Bands The Weight; and wasnt that the bass line from the Replacements Cant Hardly Wait? But somehow, the Gold songs took on a different color when lifted out of their hackneyed classic-rock-radio stylings, carrying their own ragged charms in the very Exile-era-Stones live performance context.
The band, billed as the Sweetheart Revolution, was closely supervised by Bob Dylans former multi-instrumentalist, William Bucky Baxter, who played pedal steel, dobro and an assortment of guitars. Adams has clearly handed over the bandleader reins to Baxter, who watched closely over the other musicians, giving them frequent musical cues, which they followed to the letter. Daniel Eisenberg was the standout player on Hammond B3, while the rest of the band Brad Rice on lead guitar, Billy Mercer on bass, Brad Pemberton on drums showed strong rock n roll chops while staying in the background and allowing Adams to hold the spotlight.
The band left Adams alone for half a dozen songs from Heartbreaker, in which he demonstrated his excellent guitar playing and his ability to emote inside a song. His self-assurance seemed shaken, however, when someone jokingly called out for Summer Of 69 by Bryan Adams. Ryan called the heckler an asshole and a racist, and demanded that he be removed.
Temper tantrum over, Adams delivered an encore that included a sincere reading of the Stones Brown Sugar. He left the stage after two and a half hours, having sealed his reputation with a performance that sent a clear signal he is no longer the boy most likely, but an impeccably groomed rock star icon in the making.