There was a moment at Sunday night’s Ryan Adams show when I thought the had wheels come off.
Allow me to set the scene: It was the next-to-last song of the night, and after a little banter with the crowd Adams said, “This next song is called ‘Doomsday.’ ” It was met with a tepid response—perhaps because it’s a song off his new album or maybe because it was almost 11:00 on a school night in SLC. Either way, Adams was unimpressed by the audience’s enthusiasm. So for the second time in less than two hours, Adams name-dropped the legendary rock band KISS, comparing his new stuff to “Lick it Up,” a song that KISS crowds didn’t want to hear until later tours.
So he started the song—a guitar heavy number, much like the other songs dominating his setlist at The Eccles. But, a minute or so in, he stopped playing. He motioned with his arms to cut the music. He moved to the front of the stage. “Oh boy,” I thought, “This is it.” You see, the temperamental Adams famously bugged off the stage at Red Butte after being a jerk to the crowd several years ago. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard the stories—and I thought that I was seeing it happen again live and in person.
Instead, magic happened. “This is why you like this song,” he explained, after being handed an acoustic guitar and harmonica. He started the song over, only this time, acoustic. And in that moment with lyrics like “Can you stand and face your fears, my love?/I will for you/I could stand in just one place, my love/And never move/As the fire burns around us in the dark/One part is the world and one’s my heart,” I suddenly understood two things—all of of the comparisons to Springsteen when Prisoner came out were spot on and that Ryan Adams has finally grown up. After a show that was heavy on jam-band moments and hard rock guitar noodling, he met the audience where they were, instead of where he was and gave them an acoustic version of a song he totally could have rocked out on.
Sure, there were some classic Adams immature moments (let’s not forget that when he played Red Butte last year, my review compared him to my 12-year-old son), like a song he made up about being live on Instagram because, well, he was live-streaming the show on the social media outlet, colorful language, complaining that The Eccles wouldn’t let him use fog machines during his show (which led to a confession involving LSD, Mama Mia and Baltimore), shouting down an audience request with “No! Freewill! When I make you my special lasagna, don’t you dare ask for a ham sandwich.” But there was no talk of boogers or pot and there weren’t even any arcade games on the stage this time around.
This is a newer, more mature Adams. Even his stage chatter was less than usual—which, by the way, is a bummer. Adams is charming. He’s taking his job seriously and even told the crowd, “I can’t talk to you, because I have to go back to work now.”
Even the end of the show was very grown up—after “Wonderwall” ended at exactly 11:00, Adams stopped playing, almost suddenly. No encore, the house lights came on and that was that. But hey, at least he didn’t storm off the stage—and after all, it was a school night and he certainly made curfew.
Our little boy is all grown up.