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Arts and Entertainment

A Night of Sad Songs from a Happy Ryan Adams at Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Ryan Adams played the first of two shows at Walt Disney Concert Hall last night. (Photo: David Black)
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Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams was in a good mood last night during the first of two solo acoustic shows atWalt Disney Concert Hall. Yes, you read that correctly. The alt-country-rock artist with a bit of a bad-boy rep was—dare we say it—downright jovial.

But just because Adams was feeling playful doesn’t mean last night's music reflected his mood. Throughout his career as a solo artist or with Whiskeytown or the Cardinals, his signature has been the sad, slow ballad about love, loss or heartbreak. In all fairness, though, he sometimes mixes things up with a mid-tempo song or two.

He embraced that fact last night, telling the receptive crowd at the top of his set: “Let’s all get sad together.” Adams then launched into “Oh My Sweet Carolina” from his first solo album Heartbreaker, and continued with “Ashes & Fire,” the title track from his latest studio album, telling the audience that the song was about a hotel in which he got the “most f*cked up ever.”

The pacing of the two-hour show slowed in the middle, which can be expected of a set list filled with sad, moody songs, but Adams kept our attention by being in fine vocal form last night. Add to that, the acoustics of Walt Disney Concert Hall, and you have a perfect storm for any singer-songwriter. To keep things moving throughout the evening, Adams switched back and forth between two acoustic guitars, accompanying himself occasionally on harmonica, and then really changing it up with a couple of songs on an upright piano.

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One was a humorous ditty—we’re guessing it’s called “Mr. Cat”—about his favorite feline. (Who knew he was a crazy cat dad?) Another was a more serious song, “New York, New York,” from the 2001 Gold album, which helped earn mainstream recognition for Adams. Even though it’s a great song, many remember the video for its uncanny timing. It was filmed with Adams singing with the NYC skyline in the the background four days before the Sept. 11 attacks. In last night’s version, he changed the arrangement, slowing it for piano to become a more wistful, melancholy tune. That is, until the end, when he criticized his own ending—while playing it—describing the last few piano phrases as sounding like a “Windham Hill Sampler.”

Adams played some of his most popular songs from throughout his career, including “It Takes Two,” “16 Days,” “Firecracker” and the Oasis cover “Wonderwall,” which is still hauntingly beautiful. Though Adams rarely discusses his personal life, he did dedicate one song—”Chains of Love” to his “boo,” which we’re assuming is Mrs. Adams (aka Mandy Moore).

We thought that Adams might have a few special guest(s), since he teased us on his Twitter feed yesterday. We were wrong. It was just Adams, his voice and his music, and we were definitely OK with that.
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His surprise guest turned out to be the opening act: Val Kilmer doing a great solo turn as Mark Twain. Yes, we found the pairing a bit odd, but kudos to Kilmer for giving Hal Holbrook a run for his money.

Tickets ($42.25-$63.50) for tonight's show are sold out though official channels, we did spot a few left on the interwebs. And if you're a diehard Adams fan, we spotted a standby line last night at the ticket booth for those willing to take a chance.