[Live Review] RYAN ADAMS (Sydney)

Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Saturday May 27, 2017 :

After successfully selling out a “one off” show at the beautiful Enmore Theatre late last year, releasing a newest addition to his mammoth back-catalog of albums this year, along with a bunch of pretty cool B-sides, Ryan Adams came back to our shores with his biggest Australia/New Zealand tour yet. Playing arena-sized venues such as Margaret Court and Hordern Pavilion as well as a surprise charity show in Brisbane and a smaller gig at The Northern in Byron Bay. I was excited to see what Ryan can bring to stage at Hordern Pavilion in Sydney. 

Adams has an army of loyal fans by whom he can do no wrong. Dozens were already lining up in front of the venue before box office even opened. Among the usual fan banter I could make out discussions about set-lists from previous shows, excitement over merchandise designs and whether a classic Scorpio, that is Ryan Adams will be in a good mood or not. It’s interesting how different the ages of the fans are. I guess once you write a hundred break up songs, you get quite relatable. To be fair, I absolutely love Prisoner – new post-divorce soul searching masterpiece. A contrast to his highly acclaimed Heartbreaker. Lined with heavy sounding guitars and even a sax solo. Going heavy rock to power pop, drum punched and harmonica laced. Even with a few guitar solos sneakily tucked into the likes of ‘Haunted House’ and ‘We Disappear’. I was truly excited to hear as much of Adams’ new material as possible.

Finally I get past security, which was intensely doubled for the show in light of the horrible events that happened at a concert in Manchester, UK just a few days ago. The venue truly made the effort to make sure everyone was safe and sound.

Starting on time, Sydney indie-pop outfit Middle Kids opened the show sounding like something I was heavily into in 2007. The band was tight and quite enjoyable to watch. Guitarist and Bass player looked like they were stoked to be there and the singer, who I found out from the guy next to me, was named Hannah, had a lovely voice. I listened to ‘Edge of Town’ before heading to the show, everyone seems to love the song and I do agree, it’s a catchy tune that would make anyone look the band up.

The venue started to fill out by 9pm, when Ryan Adams and the Unknown Band were due to take to stage. At about 10 to 9 a woman addressed the audience asking everyone to keep their flash off on their phones and cameras due to Adams’ infamous  struggle with “Meniere’s disease” (disorder in the inner ear which may cause vertigo, migraines and hearing loss). Adams’ mentioned on social media that he had an episode after the Auckland show, which was quite worrying to the fans.

At 9pm sharp, five figures came on stage, positioned very far from the edge. It felt as if the stage was almost too big and was awkwardly filled with a pyramid of tv screens, life sized stuffed tigers and oversized amps. Ryan Adams in double denim and sunglasses was so far from the audience, people got confused. However there was hope – as there were two microphones positioned closer to the edge of the stage, together with Ryan’s signature cross shaped mat. Bass player Charlie Stavish and guitarist Todd Wisenbaker seemed to be standing so far away, it felt like they were side of stage, not on stage. The gap between the audience and the band was just too wide to feel comfortable.

However, starting the show with the biggest track off Prisoner – ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ and progressing onto an old favourite off  2000’s Heartbreaker – ‘To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)’ made the crowd reassured that everything was going to plan. ‘Give Me Something Good’ off 2014 self-titled is surely a fan favourite. I saw a few people sing along and sway. ‘Stay With Me’ off the same album was an obvious choice for a follow up.

During this tour Ryan Adams had some solid set-lists and played a few over 2 hour shows, but something was off tonight. After playing heart wrenching ‘Two’ off 2007 record Easy Tiger (happy 10th anniversary) and back onto new album’s ‘Doomsday’, Adams and the band remained in their spots far towards the back of the stage. Sunglasses didn’t come off either – something didn’t seem right.

The beauty of ‘When The Stars Go Blue’, a 2001 classic that has been covered by the likes of The Corrs and Tim McGraw gave me shivers and Ryan’s voice sounded as if it was full of sorrow. Disco ball and blue lit venue was a nice touch, during this song.

Finally we got to see Ryan move closer to the edge of the stage with an acoustic take on ‘Prisoner’ – just to hear someone in the crowd shouting comments and requests. Requests are for karaoke bars! What a rude crowd. Adams was not happy, he swore and dedicated the next song, ‘Anything I Say to You Now’ to “the d**khead” in the audience who was spoiling the show for everyone. He moved back to his position at the back of the stage to remain there. ‘Tightrope’, a rockabilly version of ‘New York, New York’ and the beautiful ‘Outbound Train’ sounded great before he played his version of Noel Gallagher’s solo ‘Wonderwall’, having the whole venue sing along.

Everything seemed okayish again, but still a bit unsettled. Awkwardness between band members and absolutely no engagement with the audience had people guessing that maybe Adams didn’t feel well. The suspicion was confirmed when ‘Come pick me up, Take me out, Fuck me up, Steal my records, Screw all my friends’, sounded undeniably angrier than usual.

‘Mockingbird’ makes me incredibly sad, because it’s such a beautiful and painfully relatable Ryan Adams and the Cardinals classic about how love sometimes is just not strong enough.  

‘Cold Roses’ was a very confusing interpretation that lasted around seven minutes. Ben Alleman, keyboard player seemed to be the only person, apart from Adams, who knew what was going on, while the rest of the band constantly exchanged glances. Closing the show with ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’, Ryan and Co stormed off the stage blurbing some sort of goodbye and what sounded like an apology. The show lasted a bit over an hour and a half and had no usual banter or introduction of band members. No signature backhand or crowd engagement. Fans were left confused and somewhat disappointed. New fans wanted an encore, which Adams never does. 20 songs and a great variety on set-list made the night great, despite the odd vibe. 

Later that night Ryan Adams took to his fans on social media :
Thank you NZ/ AUS fans. These trips have destroyed my body, my balance and my health in my struggle with Meniere’s Disease. Thank you for the wonderful journey and memories. I’ll never forget the brutal press, loyal loving fans, total madness and perfect nights at the Sydney Opera House. Be well my friends. I will love you and my music will love you always. Time to go home now. XO

Make of it what you will. “Stay Weird”

Reviewer and Photographer : Annette Geneva

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