Concert Review: Ryan Adams, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, Charlie Louvin and Vietnam at the Brown Theatre in Louisville – May 19, 2007
After the whole Ryan versus Gillian debacle I had settled down into a wonderful Ryan Adams groove. I’ve been listening to his music for weeks and generally freaking out about seeing him. My mantra has been “I’m going to see Ryan Adams, I’m going to see Ryan Adams.” The world’s troubles melt away with these words.
But before I talk about the show, I must say a few words about Holly. She is my wife’s friend from college. I was also supposed to have married her instead -(acording to my sister anyway.) You see while I first started to date the girl who became my wife, my sister was then in college with Holly (a different college than the one my wife and Holly attended, but that’s another story) and she noticed some similarities between me and Holly (all of which have long since been forgotten) and decided we were perfect for each other. And she told us this information, separately and frequently. We both collectively shrugged our shoulder and moved on.
Somehow, a few months ago Holly and I became fast friends. It turns out we do have a lot in common, namely a great passion for music and Ryan Adams. Lots of e-mails have passed through our portals and a few phone calls, but the whole physical presence thing was absent (well except for a couple of weddings, but both of those were brief and pre-friendship weirdness.)
All this to say that I was looking forward to her coming and a little nervous about it all.
She came, it was a little weird, then it was fun and silly and great. There was one of those long, 3 am I’m-sure-I’m-going-to-regret-saying-all-this-in-the-morning conversations. Except I don’t regret it. Not at all.
We made a day of Louisville, eating some fine food at a Hookah bar, and digging through the record bins at Ear X-Tacy. The doors at the Brown Theatre opened at 6, so we arrived about 4:30. We weren’t the first. Fanboys and girls abounded.
As a general rule people tend to annoy me. As a solid, never-bending absolute truth, fanboys piss me off (well, excepting one.) I get fandom. I get solid adoration of an artist. I simply cannot understand slovenly devotion to a single musician. As we stood in the lobby waiting for the doors we had to stand the asinine fanboy conversations. One boy claimed he would not befriend anyone who was not a Ryan Adams fan. Another made the bold proclamation that the Eagles were better than the Beatles and the Stones, though all three really sucked and Ryan Adams blew them all away.
Someone please school these boys.
In ways the fanboys shaped my entire concert experience. We landed a seat in the third row, center, and the hardiest of fanboys were in front of us. I couldn’t help but gage their reactions and observe their behavior.
Paula Cole started the show. I’ve never much cared for her music, but she carried herself well. The voice wavered from time to time, but the band backed her up sufficiently and it was a good time. After some new songs, and some very awkward talk where she proved herself way to aware of her time out of the spotlight, and the audiences indifference to her come back she simply nailed “I Don’t Want to Wait.” I had never liked the song before, but it shimmered and glowed in this night.
The fanboys sang along, their faces tinged with irony and scoffing laughter. I may not like Paula, but I respect that she can write her own songs and have the balls to get up and sing them. With feeling.
Next was Charlie Louvin and he tore the roof off. He completely lives up to his legendary status. Even the fanboys were enjoying themselves, even if they were pretending that enjoyment was only in an ironic way.
Even with the irony and a few mocking laughs at his more sentimental songs, Louvin was the consummate professional. He made mention that some of the young people might not understand his type of music, but if they listened closely, they just might have a good time anyway. During “Cash on the Barrelhead” he leaned forward inviting one particularly obnoxious fanboy onto the stage to sing along. It was a brilliant moment – embarrassing the fanboy without being vicious or mean, yet still staying within character.
Suzanne Vega was up next and I wondered if most of the audience even knew who she was. She was very much the total professional too. Where Paula Cole seemed too aware of the precariousness of trying to make a comeback in this business, Suzanne let it all roll off her shoulders. She seemed to be saying that she had never left the business, and while the fans may have slipped away, she was always around making her music. Her performance was as unique and quirky as ever. She did a few songs with just her and her bassist and it was beautiful. She closed out with “Luca” and “Tom’s Diner” and the house did seem to remember.
A new NY band, Vietnam hit the next spot. I won’t say they were bad, but they were not what we needed at that point. We were all exhausted and ready for nothing but Ryan Adams. They had their 70’s era Allman brothers band schtick down pat. Except it wasn’t really schtick, but done completely serious. It was all rock, no subtlety.
And then he came. Stools were set in a half circle towards the back of the stage. The lights were incredibly dim. Mood I guess. The Cardinals came and then Mr. Adams in a shower cap, hoodie and dark sunglasses. The recently torn ligament and subsequent cast kept him from playing guitar, but his voice has never sounded better.
He played about half the new album, which hasn’t been released and I didn’t know, but it was all good. The record should be brilliant – kind of subdued and sad, more Heartbreaker than Cold Roses, but genius in the way only Ryan Adams can be.
Throughout everybody’s performances there was trouble with the monitor speakers. Every performer complained about it and was followed by stagehands running around on stage for a bit. During Ryan’s first song, you could tell it wasn’t fixed for he pointed at the speaker then his finger went into the air dozens of times. By the second song he had called a stage hand over to chew him out.
“Please don’t piss Ryan off,” Holly begged, for Ryan Adams is a bit notorious for walking off the stage early when he gets pissed. Pissed or not, the performance was magic.
The dim lights turned from blue to read and the shower cap came off. They played an Alice in Chains cover, “Down in a Hole” that turned the auditorium inside out. Just as I began to think this might be the most amazing concert experience of my life Ryan let out a “Thanks” and took off.
Twenty minutes and he’s gone.
Bastard. Son of a monkey. Words I cannot write for my mother might read.
Man, I know you have to keep up your eccentricities. I know it is part of your allure to pull this crap. But it is called being a professional. Did Charlie Louvin walk off because he couldn’t hear himself? Did Paula Cole or Suzane Vega? Man the Vietnam guitarist just moved over to the one working monitor. We paid good money, drove long distances, and generally did what we could to see you perform. You should at least do you freaking job.
Much cursing ensued during the drive home. But then a fanboy posted videos, and I watched, I listened, I teared up just a little, and I have to say, I forgave.
“Goodnight Rose” – Forgive the lousy video quality, as I said the lighting was terribly dim. But the audio is good.