The highlight of the sold-out Ryan Adams concert at the Arlington Theatre last Wednesday night was born from the odd combination of a misbehaving guitar and a deliberately misheard shouted request from the audience.
The misbehaving guitar, to Adams at least, sounded like what you'd hear on a Scritti Politti record. The request was for "Chains of Love," which Adams "misheard" as "Change the Boat." He proceeded to spontaneously write a hilarious song with that title, sung with Scritti Politti falsetto and featuring disco-inspired guitar.
At the risk of reading too much into this, one could say that this quick episode tells us much about Adams. No. 1: He is super talented and super prolific, seemingly able to write a song almost as easily as he breathes. No. 2: He's a bit of a music nerd — I mean, is Scritti Politti on anyone's radar these days? No. 3: He draws inspiration from the music of the past. This isn't meant to be critical, and I won't belabor the point — it's just the way it is.
Adams is touring in support of his wonderful new self-titled album, which was featured heavily at the concert. Like the album, the show kicked off with the rocker "Gimme Something Good," and more of its songs popped up throughout the set, including the moving song "My Wrecking Ball" whose heartfelt intro was unfortunately marred by competing shouts of "Stand up!" and "Sit down!" from the audience.
Can't we all just get along?
It was also interesting to hear "Rats in the Wall" and "When the Summer Ends" from his recent super-limited-edition EP 1984, the latter of which wouldn't be out of place on a vintage Husker Du album.
Adams also drew from his vast past catalog, with some highlights being "New York, New York," "Easy Plateau" with a tripped-out guitar jam, the impossibly pretty "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and, especially, a stretched-out version of "Peaceful Valley" with a '60s vibe that called to mind the Grateful Dead at their best.
Adams chatted quite a bit between songs, usually (and playfully?) in response to some perceived annoyance like the strong smell of popcorn or a person checking the feed on their smartphone. He also mercilessly mocked an audience member who made the mistake of calling out the all-too-common request for Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" — but it was all in good fun, wasn't it?
As the evening wound down, Adams avoided the encore charade by asking the audience to pretend they walked offstage and came back after a suitable wait. He then teased the audience by playing the opening guitar part to the "Run to You" by the similarly-named Bryan Adams before cutting it off. Those of us who grew up in the 1980s got the joke, but then shockingly he started over and played the whole thing! This from the guy who once threw a fan out of his concert (with a refund) for requesting Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69"!
All told, it was a wild ride through the mind and music of Ryan Adams, pretty much exactly what we all hoped for.
Gimme Something Good
Let It Ride
Stay With Me
New York, New York
My Wrecking Ball
I Just Might
I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say
Oh My Sweet Carolina
Am I Safe
Rats in the Wall
When the Summer Ends
Change the Boat
Run to You (Bryan Adams cover)
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.