This week the Prisoner tour is making its way through Scandinavia, hitting both Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Juli from Finland has sent me this great write-up of the first time Ryan played in Finland, way back in November 2002. Read for yourself what went down – and thank you, Juli!
Ryan Adams gave his first appearance in Finland on a cold November night at Savoy Theater, a seated concert hall – an unusual place for a rock ‘n roll show.
Adams started to play at 10 pm, a half an hour late. There was an anxious energy throughout the crowd waiting for the show to begin. On stage, there was a black grand piano, red wine, an ashtray, a harmonica holder, and a guitar.
For the first songs the grand piano was played by two women taking turns. They also sang and played the cello, violin and tambourine. Adams played an acoustic guitar sitting, an electric guitar standing and the grand piano. He walked from one instrument to another between almost every song with a cigarette burning, mostly in the ashtray, nearly all the time. The ashtray was taped on the table with black duct tape. After ripping off the ashtray, Adam looked underneath it and placed it on top of the acoustic guitar.
A man shouted “AMY”. Adams buried his face in his hands, shook his head, poured the rest of the red wine down his throat and mumbled “I should never have done that to her”. His black hair was in front of his face and it was hard to see him. He didn’t say a word between the numbers and felt really distant and inaccessible.
The women accompanying Adams seemed apathetic. They hung their heads like they were about to fall asleep waiting for the part to join in. However, the cello sounded amazing. There was a photographer taking pictures. It was so quiet I could hear him taking pictures during the music all the way to the 19th row and it really annoyed me.
Adams played barely for an hour. I was really confused after that. If that was the end, I would have been disappointed. Even the faster songs were arranged ultra slow and he didn’t say a word to lighten up the mood. Adams was the perfect opposite of Malin, who was opening for him. Luckily, there was more…
We applauded for a really long time before Adams took the stage again. I was thinking to myself that he’s a complete asshole, if he doesn’t come back. But he forgot his cigarettes on the table and he had to return to get them. I wouldn’t have been surprised, if he didn’t. Especially when people were leaving. There was an older couple sitting on my right side, they left. I was all alone.
Ryan took the cigarettes and sat down by the grand piano. He used the black duct tape to tape his mouth shut. Then he noticed he can’t drink or smoke and half opened the tape. He gulped down the wine, filled the glass with the ashes and closed the tape again. He removed the tape, but it got stuck in his fingers. He used it to tape a cigarette on his finger and played the first encore.
For the next song he stood up. He started to play the intro, but stopped. He pulled up his pants and closed the belt instead. I guess we know why it took so long for him to return…
After the song he eventually played, he started talking into the microphone for the first time the whole evening. He made a joke about needing a haircut. Said he looked like a junkie Beatle. He even joked about cutting his wrists with the scissors. That’s some dark humor.
Ryan told us he was really tired after flying in from Cork, Ireland. All he wanted to do was go to a bar and get wasted, but he promised to play as long as he could stay awake. There was nothing else to do anyway, because it was so cold outside. He told a joke about two nuns driving a Volkswagon and their encounter with the Devil “which is bad for nuns,” he explained. I didn’t get the joke but it was still funny. Telling jokes was clearly not his day job. He told about the time he applied to work for McDonalds and being underqualified for the job. He filled in the application backwards so that they had to read it with a mirror. They had been very confused. He wasn’t hired. I started wondering what Ryan would do if he didn’t make music, assuming that he had not died of substance abuse.
Ryan was curious about the man requesting to hear AMY. He said “Who was asking for that song?” and the lighting guy to turn on the lights. He jumped down from the stage, walked up to the man and shook his hand. He promised to play it next and returned to the grand piano. The lights were faded out. Ryan noticed the cool fading and asked the lights to be turned back on. He faded them on and off. “On!” “Off!” “On!” “Off-On!” It was hilarious. Eventually he played the song and it was beautiful.
The encore lasted at least as long as the set and the show was over at half past midnight, way past the venue’s closing time. When Chief, the guitar tech, tried to tell Ryan that time was running out he replied “They can’t make me [stop].”
All songs were slow ballads. They were heartbreakingly beautiful and true. Ryan played songs from Heartbreaker, Gold, and Demolition. In addition, he played Whiskeytown’s “Ballad of Carol Lynn”, The Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar”, Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” and “Freight Train” by Elizabeth Cotten. The newest song he had composed the night before and he had the lyrics in front of him on a piece of paper. He could not sing “Wish You Were Here” to the end without cracking up.
I think Ryan is a brilliant songwriter. Each songs is more beautiful than the last and I have no doubt they were written with his heart on the sleeve. Even if the concert wasn’t exactly entertaining in the traditional sense, it was still good. If you just listen to music passively, it doesn’t make you think or feel anything and your thoughts are somewhere else the minute the music stops. You might feel good for a while, but it’s not stimulating.
This concert was so distracting that I had to stop and think if it was really bad or really good. I think it was superb, because especially before Ryan started to speak, he communicated with the audience only with gestures and you really had to pay attention. Who knew that goofing around with an ashtray and cigarettes can be art. No words were really needed. I got a strong feeling that he really meant what he sang.
Even though Ryan had Jesse opening for him, he was his own opening act in a way. The songs were pretty much the same in the set as in the encore, but the way he took his audience was completely different. You really want to listen to the songs when they are performed by a feeling creature. It was impossible not to feel empathetic. Even if it was a confusing beginning, he eventually won me over. The members of the audience who were left in the end, gave Ryan a standing ovation.
All I can feel is a deep compassion for Ryan and gratitude for making me feeling quite OK myself. I am sold and miss him already.
Helsinki, 15 November 2002
(you can listen to the show here)