Boston is a great city once you park — especially on an unusually frigid November day. There is an undeniable beauty in its crooked streets that can only be admired when not driving on them, even in Chinatown where the even more beautiful Wang Theatre presented Ryan Adams and Butch Walker. Inside, the joint seemed a more appropriate venue for Bach or Pygmalion than a rock concert, with it’s gilded balconies and massive cameos framing the stage.
To heighten the drama—or lack thereof—the stage was adorned with pinball machines, giant Fender amps, a PaxAm flag and I’m pretty sure a stuffed tiger. All this set to strange renditions of tv theme songs, including but not limited to the extended version of the X-Files theme and The Monkees theme song (which I don’t think was actually done by the Monkees, or at least didn’t sound like it).
Butch Walker opened up, and couldn’t have been more gracious about the opportunity. He kept thanking Adams for working with him and giving him the spot to open, and referred to him as a good friend more times than would be comfortable for good friends (but this isn’t to say it doesn’t seem genuine, more like a drunk pointing at his friend and slurring “this guy right here, this guy is the best.”) While not being thankful, his self-deprecating humor loosened the room up: before playing a new song, he said something to the effect: “I would say this is a new song, but most of you don’t know who I am, so they’re all new.”
His music was temperamentally in the Adams style, despite being a few years older than him. He sang better than anybody named Butch should rightfully be able to sing, but slowly went from croon to belt as he transitioned from Piano to Acoustic to Electric to full band (with Adams on the drums). The highlight of his set was a tribute to his father when he played with the full band, a full-on rocker that betrayed the tenderness of the lyrics. If the crowd didn’t know Butch Walker before, his set inspired some people to check him out on Spotify or YouTube today.
Alas, no matter how hard rocking the opener is, as Butch noted, the crowd was there for Ryan Adams, a man whose reputation precedes him. And while his public persona seems to have mellowed out (I never thought I’d see him say happy birthday to Bryan Adams), his stage presence has not: a good portion of the night was spent letting the more vocal audience members know that there was a set-list and no need to call out songs, but also that he was going to take his time when adjusting a new guitar.
Adams expounded from his microphone that he had the PA system, not the hecklers. That if they wanted to be heard, they should “go start a fucking blog.” He also explained that a prick is a hair away from being an asshole. The outbursts were loud and long, but from this fan’s standpoint, not undeserved. The man has an extensive back-catalogue of songs, and they must only practice a small percentage of that. This isn’t Uncle Ryan’s Band, he never said to call a tune, anybody’s choice. On the other hand, at some point, by responding, Adams was only encouraging those who wanted to walk away from the concert with the story of how Adams called him an asshole.
Despite the onstage antics, the backing band, known as The Shining, was in top shape, and brought out in Adams the rock side of many of his country tunes. There was no twang in the guitars, no lap steels, just an organ that oozed under the songs like the pink slime in Ghostbusters. One thing missing was the edge that was provided by the Cardinals—if there is one thing I could compare it to, it would be the difference between the Minnesota and New York sessions that Dylan recorded for Blood On The Tracks, with The Shining being the latter. (Listen to the Bootleg “Idiot Wind” and compare that to the album version to see what I mean).
Subdued or not, they rocked over twenty songs without losing steam, touching on most stages of his career. Fan favorites “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and “New York, New York” were played. (Disturbingly, some fans tried to change the lyrics to “I still love you Bean-Town,” and fuck that.) He may have been antagonizing the New Englanders though, because he also played “Dear Chicago” and “La Cienega Just Smiled” just to remind everyone how he never wrote a song about Boston.
The show was rounded out with enough b-sides and deep cuts that it didn’t seem like he was forcing his new album on us, but the new album is good, damn good, so even if he did, most of the crowd would have probably been alright with it. He played a couple of his EP tracks, including two off of 1984, the Husker Du inspired EP, which may be one of his most well received records since Heartbreaker, an impressive feat considering the songs are approximately 90 seconds each. The shorter punk songs were butt-ended by longer jams, giving the set a cohesive feel that showed the care that went into planning it.
Notably absent, at least for this fan, were tracks off of Easy Tiger and Rock N Roll, but I wasn’t going to be that asshole that yelled out my request.
Article by: Christopher Gilson