Having seen Ryan Adams play three more-or-less full sets in recent months, there weren’t many surprises for me at Adams’ Disney Hall performance on Friday, the first in a two-night stand — but the show itself was achievement enough. He played a familiar set list heavy on his most popular albums: his still-beloved solo debut, Heartbreaker; Gold; Cold Roses; Easy Tiger; and his latest, Ashes & Fire. As in past shows, he saved the deep cuts for later in the set, so as not to scare off the less familiar. On Friday night, during the set’s second hour, he relented and played a handful of tracks from artistic high point Love is Hell: “Please Do Not Let Me Go,” “English Girls Approximately” and his “Wonderwall” cover, which did win him a Grammy, after all.
If you’ve been following my recent Ryan coverage, it goes without saying that the performance was excellent, a demonstration of how a singular voice and a few thoughtfully strummed chords can bring a room to a hush. To see this happen in the cathedral-sized spread of Disney Hall was a considerable coup for Adams, who seems to have finally turned the corner on a career dogged by confused critics and a fickle fanbase. He was comfortable enough to baffle Friday’s audience with an opening set from Val Kilmer, whose identity remained a mystery behind a Mark Twain costume until an announcer gave it away once he’d left the stage. Kilmer gave a well-rehearsed, faux-drunken monologue on Twain’s history and literary rivals, with an on-stage teleprompter present but unused. Perhaps the actor is planning a tribute to Hal Holbrook, or a time-traveling Batman sequel.
The thread of delirium continued with a pair of gleeful impromptu performances from Adams: a first, in an exaggerated whisper, devoted to his pet, “Mr. Cat.” “I think about you too much, probably,” he sang, in the universal feline owner’s lament. Later, he responded to a fan’s “I love you!” with a Doobie Brothers-esque nonsense strummer designed to to belie his sad-sack image. The applause rained down the long walls of Disney Hall like a monsoon. Adams had it wrong: we love him for his heartbreak, sure, but the world might be ready at last to embrace his silly side. No offense to “New York, New York” or “My Winding Wheel,” but “Mr. Cat” was the best song he played all night. Can’t wait for the 7″.