Sound bleed is a bitch, and Ryan Adams hates it along with the rest of us. Adams played through his collection of guitars during his performance at Governors Ball last night, but the first time he picked up the acoustic — for “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” typically the most intimate, stripped-down moment in his set — the wubs and unzt-es and wobbles wafting over from Deadmau5’s main stage thunder dome debut were assaulting the hush as the guitar strap found its way over his shoulder.
“This song — it’s not gonna match the robot music you hear coming from over there!” he exclaimed by way of an introduction. “It’s like we’re living in a fucking Terminator nightmare! Although the next song goes out to the Terminator.” Adams specified that “Oh My Sweet Carolina” was intended for the Terminator T-800, not the T-1000, ’cause c’mon now, and then he eased into the lullaby that serves a flawless, soothing foil to the raucous rock ‘n’ roll and mirthful banter that had come before it.
Adams closed out his latest American tour at Governors Ball, and the twenty-song set — which plucked from Heartbreaker, Gold, Cold Roses and his 2014 recent self-titled LP — delivered exactly what fans have come to expect from the dude with the penchant for arcade games and nostalgia. For every rad solo and spat of goofiness in between songs that had Adams copping the voice of a Muppet, crystalline verses and refrains so beautiful they hushed a festival field to the stern quiet of a concert hall abounded, proving that he’s one of the few people who can actually acknowledge dynamics and musicality in a setting that flat-out discourages them. To think that he did this and hypnotized the crowd with one of EDM’s most celebrated DJs and producers blaring in the background is a feat in and of itself.
Starting with “Gimme Something Good” and plowing through “Let It Ride” and a few seasoned favorites straight out the gate, Adams and crew put their heads down and went about their business. Adams frequently got lost in his own solos, bending backwards to the point where it looked as though he’d careen forehead-first into the gargantuan Fender Deluxe Reverb amps behind him after hoisting his screaming ax to his shoulder in the kind of move one perfects in front of the mirror while dreaming of immortal rock ‘n’ roll glory. That’s a mess of words to describe a fervent guitar solo, but that kind of rambling enthusiasm is what Adams encourages, both in his masterful lyrics, their ardent delivery and the conversations that spring up between him and those willing to engage with a shout or two from the front row. It’s like he wants us to get so revved up and dizzy that the only things that come to mind when we’re trying to process our feelings are adjectives and the angles of moving limbs, the euphoric confusion that congeals after “Shakedown on 9th St.” rounds the bend or “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” quiets its gallop.
Though he’s not a born-and-raised New Yorker, the city has served as his home through the process that yielded some of his most beloved songs; he mentions his former stomping grounds in Alphabet City and the East Village every time he plays the city, usually slipping some story time into the mix before launching into “New York, New York.” Old apartments, favorite delis, stretches of Fifth Avenue — the fondness is there and appreciated in the present, as Adams has been spending time here lately working on new material. The inclusion of “New York, New York” in his Governors Ball set was hardly pandering — it’s a fixture in his set list at this point, no matter where he is — but it was an emotional touchstone for both the crowd and, seemingly, Adams as he approached the close of the evening.
By the time “Come Pick Me Up” came around — a common sing-along closer — Deadmau5 was still blasting his beats and visible in his dome nearly three football fields away. It didn’t throw a wrench in Adams’ strumming or the sheen of his harmonica. He made that clear from the onset that that wouldn’t be happening, though. Damn straight “Come Pick Me Up,” “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and the rest of his live show didn’t match the synthetic perforations coming at him from all sides. It didn’t match, and it certainly didn’t take a back seat to it, thunder dome or no.
I Love You, New York. Always Have. Always Will. You’ll Always Be Home.
— Ryan Adams (@TheRyanAdams) June 7, 2015
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