Concert Review: Ryan Adams @ The Uptown Theater (Napa, Ca)

( @theRyanAdams, #Napa, @JasonIsbell )

Opening Act: Jason Isbell
Date: Saturday, October 15th, 2011
Location: Uptown Theater – Napa, Ca

When Ryan Adams announced he was taking a break a few years ago I really wondered if he was going to play live again. Articles about Meniere’s disease and burn out made it seem like it could be a long time before a tour would be a reality. In the spring, Ryan announced select dates in Europe and I started putting away some money for a trip to California (Europe was too expensive, and I figured he might do a few dates near his home), he surprised many with a full blown tour. Long story short: I get to see him twice this year, as you can see in this review, I have no complaints.

[Opening Act: Jason Isbell]

Normally, I do a little research on opening acts, but I have been so busy with work that I completely forgot to do it. When Jason Isbell walked on stage and announced he was Muscle Shoals, Alabama I whispered to my wife “I wonder if he is in The Drive By Truckers” thanks to an piece I heard about them on NPR. He quickly confirmed my suspicions.

Isbell was sublime. I am so glad that I didn’t know much about him or his material because I had a chance to absorb his performance without any expectations. He is an outstanding guitar player and singer. Isbell has a natural way of bantering with the audience that comes from experience. Jason did a song that was based on a conversation with his dad that really sent a shiver up my spine. I can’t wait to get home and track down this guy’s back catalog because he is such a good songwriter.

[The Main Event: Ryan Adams]

Ryan Adams was excellent in every way last night. Since the venue held under 1,000 people and the show was billed as an acoustic performance, it was a very intimate. The one thing that stood out to me (after having gone to several Ryan Adams concerts) – is just how good his voice sounded. Ryan’s ability to convey emotion through his voice is often overlooked in favor of his prolific songwriting, but his voice might be the greatest weapon in his arsenal.

This was most definitely a thank you show to the fans. He played the perfect mix of “greatest hits”, new tunes, and fan favorites. Since he was solo, he tweaked several songs to make up for the lack of a band. The subtle changes were welcome and kept me listening for the changes. Ryan did a really nice solo at the end of “I see Monsters” that was new but fit perfectly. I am not going to rattle off every tune Adams played, but I am happy to have witnessed live performances of “Winding Wheel” and his piano version of “New York, New York” (they were awesome).

Ryan bantered with the crowd throughout the show. There was no tension. A few people in the crowd shouted out requests, but Ryan took it in stride and moved on with his set list. He broke out several improvised songs about people moving around going to the bathroom (it was funny, he kept asking them to come back, “Its not 2004!”). And the end of the main set, Adams soaked in the applause of the crowd. I have been to several Ryan Adams concerts in the past where he ran off the stage at the end of the show, it was nice to say thank you properly this time.

Ryan came back out and did a few tunes with Jason Isbell. He ended the show with an old Whiskeytown song “Jacksonville Skyline” – it was a fitting and satisfying ending to a memorable performance.. This show was a mutual love note between Ryan and the crowd and I am really glad I had a chance to witness it.

[The Curse]

I can’t do a concert review without sharing crowd experiences. I thought I was going to break the curse last night and not have any issues with an audience member because this was a fan oriented show. Wrong. There were four girls in front of us that talked THE ENTIRE TIME. At first the main offender was trying to keep it low, so it was easy to ignore her, but as the night progressed they all got sloppy drunk. She had to sing every song. She was told several times to quiet down, but as they got drunker she just laughed. Did I want to push her down the steps at the end of the night? I can’t say (yes). Oh well – at least she knew the words…

UPDATE:
Ryan posted this clip from the show on his facebook page

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