I’m pretty sure that singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is my adolescent son’s soulmate.
No, no. Wait. I have evidence.
- He came onstage at Red Butte last night wearing the same Heavy Metal Shop tee shirt my kid has.
- Both have a bit of a reputation for their child-like tantrums.
- I don’t think either of them have brushed their hair in days. Maybe weeks.
- Adams made a lot of booger jokes and one fart joke last night—and my kid is all about fart and booger jokes. Because he’s 12.
Okay. So I’m exaggerating a little, but here’s another thing the singer-songwriter and my kid have in common: youthful exuberance. In fact, when Adams took to the stage at Red Butte last night in front of a sold-out and enthusiastic crowd, his centered and enthusiastic energy was infectious (maybe that’s thanks to the personal bonsai tree he kept in front of him all night).
Starting with “Trouble,” Adams’ setlist was full of favorites, spanning the length of his solo career (still no Whiskeytown for this long-time fan, sadly), but most notably, the songs were longer, turning into an almost Grateful Dead-ish concert full of long jams with Adams’ band, The Shining. This band, one he’s toured with for a couple of years now, make big sounds and make the effort that goes into creating them seem easy, not unlike their frontman. Adams spent lots of time moving around the stage and shredding his guitar from lots of different positions, including the classic rock-star-on-knees-with-arched-back yoga position.
There seem to be very few casual Ryan Adams fans in Salt Lake. Members of the crowd last night are among the ones who have been following him from the beginning of his career. They pay attention to set lists and pick up on the nuances of songs on the docket and the significance of those left off. They sing along and they watch in rapt attention when his band riffs at the end of a song in spectacular fashion, as they did during a truly incredible “Magnolia Mountain.” But, I think for fans, new and old, the stand-out moment of the night was when he brought opener Amanda Shires onstage to sing “Sweet Carolina” with him—her role, the one Emmylou Harris played in the studio version of that song—resulting in a beautiful rendition of a heartbreaking song.
Adams’ banter, though less plentiful than it was a year ago, still engaged the audience through the show. Because here’s the thing, Ryan Adams is a genuinely funny guy. And it’s not just booger jokes and fart jokes and jokes about an audience member looking at the stage like the band looks at the “good stuff” in their tour bus refrigerator (you really had to be there). He lead the crowd in a “freakout countdown” for two members of the crowd whom he said were “losing their (expletive)” and sang a little ditty about our fair city he called, according to a setlist published on his Instagram account, “Another Beautiful Goddamn Night In SLC, it even referenced an infamously bad show here several years ago—I think, and not the excellent show last year at Red Butte—with lyrics, “I’m so glad it’s not the last show, that was shitty. So glad the moon is out in Salt Lake City… I’m wearing my Heavy Metal Shop t-shirt, feeling good, just another beautiful goddamn night in Salt Lake City,” and he handed out tee shirts to the crowd, calling out folks in the front for their positive concert behavior. A change from the Ryan Adams who used to storm off-stage if the audience was too loud.
And so, Ryan Adams has grown as an artist and entertainer. And he he has grown up. It was fitting still, at the end of the night, that he closed (without an encore, ““This is our fake encore,” he said, “I normally would’ve left right now, but I’ll just stand here.”) with “Come Pick Me Up,” a great song, but a tale of immature love gone wrong. After all, there really were a lot of booger jokes.