Ryan Adams / Butch Walker Massey Hall, Toronto ON, November 12
Published Nov 13, 2014Few musicians are as prolific and proficient at songwriting (and pot-smoking) as Ryan Adams is, so performing at a venue with a super-strict curfew may not have been the best choice. But despite the show getting cut slightly short, Adams and his new touring band the Shining still delivered an impressive set.
Butch Walker warmed up the theatre, sauntering on stage and planting himself at the piano with a cowboy hat and red Dixie cup in tow — an appropriate entrance considering the songs that followed were all rooted in his deep Southern background. Switching from whiskey-soaked piano blues to acoustic alt-folk to fuzzed-out punk jams, it's easy to see the musical compatibility between Walker and Adams. He cracked jokes about the old Toronto "shitholes" he's played in the past and elicited laughs from the crowd with his stories of back home before ending his set with a poignant tribute to his recently-passed father, setting the tone for the evening — a lighthearted approach to heavy, emotional music.
Adams and the Shining (or R.A.T.S., as emblazoned on the punk-style show posters being sold) made themselves at home quickly on the stage, which was bedecked with arcade games, a hippie-friendly peace sign-featuring American flag and an ever-looming cardboard cat cutout. Launching the set with "Gimme Something Good" from his latest, self-titled record and the Cardinals' "Let It Ride," it wasn't until the end of the third song ("Stay With Me") that Adams emerged from beneath his mop of frizzled hair and his tattered sweater to reveal a Danzig t-shirt and address the crowd with more than a mumble.
What followed was the night's first magical moment. A backdrop of twinkling blue star-like lights mixed with purple overheads as an especially lovely rendition of "Dirty Rain" found the musicians settling into a groove for a string of Adams' back catalogue favourites like "This House Is Not For Sale," "New York, New York" and "Dear Chicago."
Adams wowed again with his one-man, acoustic rendition of "My Winding Wheel," which saw him pick up his signature red, yellow and green acoustic and move across the stage to a mic stand adorned with white lights, as matching ones twinkled behind him. He brought the crowd back from the verge of tears (No? Just me?) with hilarious anecdotes about Puddle of Mudd mixtapes he made for himself, battling with a particularly growl-y heckler (most likely yelling about his "masculine feelings," as Adams deduced) and an elaborate analogy about having turned Massey Hall into a spaceship from Battlestar Galactica, or something.
The laughs were again followed by some of his most heart-wrenching numbers ("Oh My Sweet Carolina," "La Cienega Just Smiled") before the curfew started to loom.
Taking the "democratic" approach, Adams offered up four songs to be voted on by applause. Unsurprisingly, "Come Pick Me Up" won out for the set closer, though its writer was clearly annoyed at the choice, as he tried to bargain with fans and then exasperatedly played the Heartbreaker classic. As reluctant as he was to perform it, Adams did it beautifully and brought Walker out to help out on electric guitar and vocals, bringing the night to a gorgeous, if predictable and slightly earlier-than-intended, end.