On August 5, 2016, Ryan Adams and The Shining played the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. Tickets sold out before I could buy one, but my friend ended up having an extra one that I bought from her. I almost resold it when I discovered he was playing on a Friday night and not a Saturday night as I originally thought, as on Fridays I have to pay for a babysitter on top of the concert ticket. Going to the show, I thought, I hope this is worth it, Ryan Adams! Little did I know. I’ve been listening to Ryan’s music on and off for the last two years and own a few of his albums, but never got really deeply into his music, having been distracted recently by other artists. Several other of my music-loving friends are huge fans of his, so I figured it was about time I saw him live — this would be my first time attending one of his concerts.
It has taken me almost a month to post about this concert. First, because my children have been at home for summer break and I’ve had less time at the computer, second because I attended a bunch of concerts in early August that ate up a lot of time, and third, I took a week-long vacation. But also, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to write about this concert, so I’ve been putting it off. I like to share my thoughts about shows, including musicians comments and as much of the set list as I can, but I leave out a lot of the personal details of my experiences, such as not sharing information about the people who attend shows with me. Also, I don’t mention if I talk to the musicians before or afterward and what I say to them if I do get a chance to meet with them. I try to blend into the crowd as much as I can at a show, despite having to juggle my camera and my little notebook and a pen. But I didn’t know that Ryan Adams was going to make this one personal, which left me with a conundrum on how to write this. I’ve decided to include the personal part, because it is a great story, even if embarrassing to yours truly.
Opening act was Nice as Fuck, a trio of ladies playing music in the post-punk pop vein, led by Jenny Lewis on vocals and synthesizer, Erika Spring on bass, and Tennessee Thomas on drums. They recently released their debut LP and proceeded to play through all of its tracks. While pleasing enough to listen to, the lyrics felt simplistic, as if derived from the writings of teenagers and were sometimes delivered in the style of a high school cheer set to music (see “Homerun” and the “NAF Theme”). The music was straightforward and sparse, just bass, drums, and occasionally synthesizer, with Jenny’s lovely vocals dominating the tunes, though not much to be heard in the way of harmonies. As a start to an outdoor summer concert it was satisfying, like a tall glass of lemonade on a warm day. The songs played at the show (performed in album order):
- “Cookie Lips” — Tennessee introduced this song by saying it is about, “When you’re given crumbs of affection instead of cookies of affection, and you want cookies; you can’t survive on crumbs.”
- “Mall Music“
- “NAF Theme“
I was very lucky to be in the front row of the pit for this show and had positioned myself slightly to the left of Ryan’s microphone stand; he performed most of his guitar solos directly in front of me. There was a microphone in the front middle of the stage, wrapped with lights, that was never used, whether a decoy, a decoration or meant for something that didn’t come together, I don’t know. I was thrilled to be where I was standing. Ryan Adams and the Shining took the stage and immediately showed me why so many of my friends are faithful followers. Commencing with solid polished rock/alt-country music from the band and blazing, face-melting guitar solos from Ryan, I was immediately sold on the live show. I was also ecstatic that he played three of the songs I wanted to hear within the first four numbers. Everything after that was a gift.
Somewhere in the middle of the show (I believe around the 12th song), I was taking photos with my camera as I usually do for this blog. In between songs, Ryan looked up and told me to turn off my flash, but my flash was not on. At first, I thought maybe he meant someone behind me and had seen my camera and thought it was coming from me. On my camera (a digital Sony Cybershot DSC-RX100 III), I have to physically pop the flash up before using it, so I knew it wasn’t flashing the typical big bright white light. I looked at the front of the camera and there was a red light on that would turn on every time I focused a shot and I couldn’t figure out why, as red eye reduction was turned off. So Ryan is talking to me for about 5 minutes between songs (and through the mic) telling me to turn the flash off and I’m saying, “It’s not on…”. I figured the red light must be bothering him (another friend in a different location in the theatre heard him mention a “Sith flash”, so that must have been the case). So I put my camera down behind the rail to try to signal that I wouldn’t take any more photos, but then he remarked, “You don’t have to hide it, just turn it off.” And then something like, “You wouldn’t want me to throw up on you because then you would be traumatized and re-live that every time you hear one of my songs.” I was so embarrassed by this point and especially because I would never intentionally want to disturb anyone performing on stage, much less THE Ryan Adams, who suffers from Ménière’s disease. I really did not want to be responsible for causing an attack and hadn’t realized that this red light might trigger him. One of the techs even came over to me with a piece of black electrical tape I could use to cover the light.
I was determined to figure out this problem. I looked through every setting in my camera menu until I found the one I needed to turn off the red light — it was called the AF Illuminator (it’s a feature that helps the camera focus when the subject is poorly lit). My apologizes again to Ryan for disturbing him. I felt badly about it for the rest of the show. But this story has an unbelievable ending! At the end of the show, Ryan came straight up to me, ignoring all hands around me that were reaching out to him, and handed me the E flat Hohner harmonica he had just been playing on “Come Pick Me Up.” It was still warm. I was shocked and dumbstruck. Thank you, Ryan! All I could think at the end of that show was, “What just happened?” And yes, I’ve played the harmonica.
The band played straight through to the finish. I believe there was a brief mention toward the end that they were starting the encore (since they didn’t go off stage at all). I’m not going to say much about the music — the energy and quality live was fantastic, I was totally into it. If you are unfamiliar with Ryan’s music, check out some of the links in the list below. Here’s the full set list from the show.
- “Trouble” from Ryan Adams
- “Gimme Something Good” from Ryan Adams
- “New York, New York” from Gold, so excited to hear this as I was about to travel to New York for the first time
- “When the Stars Go Blue” from Gold, one of my favorites of the evening, so I’ve borrowed a line for the title
- “Let It Ride” from Cold Roses
- “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” from Heartbreaker, following this song Ryan joked, “Thank you so much you guys, good night, that was great!”
- “Cold Roses” from Cold Roses
- “Fix It” from Cardinology, an audience member was screaming rather loudly and prolonged after this song. Ryan commented, “There’s no need to scream, you’re all right. Tomorrow you’ll be hoarse.”
- “Shakedown on 9th Street” from Heartbreaker, prior to this song, Ryan spent a few minutes talking about The Outsiders and the crickets that are twice as loud as the dialogue. The clip missed it but he finished off with “F those fucking crickets!”
- “Everybody Knows” from Easy Tiger
- “Magnolia Mountain” from Cold Roses, link is to the video I shot. Before this song I was thinking, I’ll just record whatever song is next…didn’t know it was going to be one of the longest of the set!
- “Stay With Me” from Ryan Adams
- “Dear Chicago” from Demolition
- “She’s Not Me” from Jenny Lewis’s album, The Voyager, Jenny returned to the stage to sing this song of hers with the band.
- “Oh My Sweet Carolina” from Heartbreaker, Jenny stayed on stage to sing this as a duet with Ryan.
- “Peaceful Valley” from Jacksonville City Nights, after this song Ryan introduced the band (Mike Viola on guitar, Charles “Chuck” Stavish on bass, Frederick Bokkenheuser on drums, and Daniel Clarke on keyboards) and remarked about “some T-shirt flannel weirdo playing some sad version of jazz.”
- “Halloweenhead” from Easy Tiger
- “I See Monsters” from Love is Hell
- “This House is Not For Sale” from Love is Hell
- “Come Pick Me Up” from Heartbreaker, video link is from that concert. So great to hear that harmonica that was about to become mine!