Review of Ryan Adams at the Greek Theater, Berkeley

By Teenie Smith-Macbeth from

Let me start with this about last night. I wasn’t really pumped for this show. I’m getting old and cranky and I find it harder for me these days to have fun at concerts, which sucks because seeing live music has been one of my favorite hobbies since I was 15. The venue is about two hours from home and I had just returned from working on the east coast for two weeks. I wasn’t a fan of his last band and was expecting more of the same.

Then the show started and I was pleasantly surprised to hear them open with “Let it Ride” and “Magnolia Mountain”. The Let It Ride was solid if unspectacular but the Magnolia Mt had an extended jam, some of which can be seen in the YouTube clip above. Some of that jam fit in really well at the Greek in Berkely as it was home to many grateful dead concerts and Ryan seemed to be channeling into that spirit during various times of the show.

From there we got a tight and fast-paced To Be Young and this new incarnation of his backing band showed they could handle the spacey stuff and the rockers as well.

The next stand out for me was Dirty Rain. Ryan’s vocals have never let me down but last night he sounded truly exceptional. He was hitting all of the high notes and then some, adding some additional flourishes and extending vocal phrasings that weren’t heard on studio tracks. Dirty Rain was not only a great showcase for Ryan’s vocals but for the organ as well, as are all of the songs off of that album that were played. One of my complaints about Ryan’s bands since the Cardinals is that I miss the pedal steel dearly. I still was longing for it during certain songs but after searching for the organ in the mix for the first few songs but as the show progressed it blended in well and made me forget that I was missing the pedal steel.

Please forgive my lack of familiarity with the “Unknown Band” member names at this point and my laziness for not going to look them up but I thought they were all great and I hope they can all continue to play together and grow.

Fix It through Do You Still love me were all solid, mainly straightforward renditions. The Prisoner album is still growing on me and I thought all of the songs from it sounded good and they were all warmly received by the crowd. The crowd, btw, was great too.

Back to the crowd. The capacity for this outdoor amphitheater on the Cal-Berkeley campus is listed as 8,500 and besides festivals this was probably the largest crowd that I’ve personally seen at one of his shows. The floor and seating area were pretty much at capacity by the time Ryan went on and the smaller lawn area on top was fairly full as well. There were no inappropriate comments shouted out during the show, the quiet moments of his solo accosting performances were met with attentive silence rather than uninterested crowd chatter (at least from where I was). Ryan commented a few times about how great a night he was having and how great the crowd was as well. He didn’t talk much until the band intros and at one point said that he WASNT going to mess up the show by talking because we were all having such a great time (or words to that effect. It was funny, and the crowd laughed along)

Following “do you still love me” the show really took off for me.

Sweet Illusions. Someone here posted recently how this song live really changes without Cat’s harmonies (I’d add cat or whoever) and I totally agree after hearing it last night. Possibly besides the chorus this now seems to be all Ryan on vocals and I really loved it. I don’t know how often I’ve ever seen him do this great song but I don’t think it was ever in heavy rotation on his setlists. Please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Great pace, great vocals, great song, great surprise to hear it.

When the Stars go blue was solid and enjoyable in every way, shape and form. Ashes and Fire, solo, acoustic with him on that solo mic with the white Christmas lights wrapped around the mic stand and just the one overhead light on him is a great way to perform this song. His voice once again was chills inducing (as was the typical N California chilly June evening) but I swear it was his voice bringing the goose bumps. This may have been the song where he mentioned he wasn’t going to talk because he was having such a good time. And he was. And we were too. Outstanding performance.

THEN OMFG Peaceful Valley

Let me preface this by saying that what I REALLY ENJOY at a Ryan Adams concert is not necessarily what everyone else loves. And I get that. I think that this Peaceful Valley is probably one of these songs as quite a few in the crowd around me used this song as a bathroom break.

After the first few notes were played my immediate reaction was amazement and brought me right back to the Cardinals Das Haus live recording that I’ve probably listened way too often. My jaw dropped open and I stared at my friend who was equally amazed at what she was hearing. What unfolded was a smoldering, intense, at times powerful and other times delicate, psychedelic, jamming and possibly the best rendition of Peaceful Valley that I have ever heard in person. Everything that I had been missing at live concerts over the last several years for me came flooding back into my brain and body. If Ryan was sending me a message, the message was that I was wrong. I had doubted that Ryan could ever get back to the highest of highs that I watched him achieve over and over again back with the Cardinals years ago and if he had been eroding my doubts over the first part of the show, him and his band completely obliterated any doubt whatsoever during this one fucking song. I won’t bore any of you further with the ramblings of the Deadhead side of my brain, but for any of you who are fans, my friend and I were seriously wondering if Phil Lesh was going to walk on stage and join in as we heard a distinct “other one” jam during peaceful valley as well.

It was amazing and left me speechless.

One problem I did have with the show. With very little banter between songs it was impossible to recover from the previous amazing version of whatever song before getting quickly smacked in the face again with another gem. This was definitely the case here with Dear John as the band finishes the brain-melting Peaceful Valley and goes right into another great version of a song that again I wasn’t expecting and always loved hearing live. Again this song, in spite of being on the same “Jacksonville city nights” album as peaceful valley, really showcased the ability of this bands versatility after the crazy PV right before it. Harmonies, pacing, emotion – Dear John was perfect.

For me that five song run from sweet illusions through dear john encompassed all of the amazing versatility that one MIGHT see at a Ryan Adams concert. From a tight, purposeful fun band, to an amazing solo acoustic performance, to an intense rocking, jamming and psychedelic brain-fuck to a haunting, emotional slow song – he and this band have a lot of musical tools for lack of a better word and they had them ALL on display tonight and I think this portion of the show really exemplified that.

I apologize for the Prisoner fans that I’m not able to go into such great detail about the new songs but I liked them all and I definitely took note that the new songs were getting great reactions from the crowd while I mentioned earlier that some songs that stood out for me were bathroom breaks for others.

Doomsday was followed by a beautiful Wonderwall, with the crowd ding some sing along at first but then falling more into attention mode at what was unfolding in front of them.

Everybody Knows sounded great and I especially liked the guitar interplay between Ryan and Todd during one of the musical breaks. I really enjoyed the way they sounded together and frankly I had a hard time finding fault with this band in spite of wanting to before the show started. They won me over for sure.

Invisible Riverside is another favorite of mine as I’m a big fan of the Ashes and Fire album and I was really happy to hear it and again the band didn’t disappoint. Right from there again this song ends and I get another smack in the face with the opening notes of Cold Roses. Once again if I had to write up my own RA setlist this would always be on there and this uptempo version with a twist on the signature guitar lick was an exciting version to hear. I was smiling ear to ear as the band chugged right along and tore up this live classic.

Ryan thanked the crowd immensely and mentioned that he was going to play as long as he could but the curfew was fast approaching. New York New York seemed to be the last song until Ryan came back out and finished this truly amazing concert off properly with a great, solo version of Come Pick Me Up (complete with guitar change mid-song, broken string perhaps?, which was almost seamless in spite of the guitar tech not wanting to step into the spotlight ) – the song ended and the crowd gave Ryan the long standing ovation that him and his band deserved. Ryan laid his acoustic down on the stage in the spotlight and started his bows which appropriately went on for a while as it was apparent that both he loved us and we him as well.

Ryan tweeted after the show “Best Audience/Favorite Show Ever”. We all know that he is given to hyperbole at times but I have to say that last night certainly restored my faith in Ryan Adams and also reminded me in the biggest and best way possible that even this cranky, jaded old music fan can still go out and have a great time, and that I cannot put a price tag on.

Thank you Ryan, thank you Unknown Band. You guys fucking rocked last night and I hope for everyone’s sake that they can bring you 1/10th of the joy and happiness I experienced last night. And I was sober too.

Go to the show. Peace.