RYAN ADAMS at the Winter Garden Theatre. December 10, 2011. Rating: NNNN
There's a vaudevillian time capsule on Yonge Street, housed in the upper reaches of the heritage-flagged Elgin, called the Winter Garden Theatre.
Ryan Adams, the self-proclaimed "Glenn Danzig of country," performed a stark, intimate and crowd-pleasing set Saturday night on its stage, but was forced to battle the ghosts that appear to now haunt its sound system.
Nearly a century old, the theatre is decorated as a garden rooftop. Its columns are disguised as elm trees, ceiling painted with bucolic splendor and balcony drapped with restored breech leaves, cotton blossoms and garden lanterns, a surreal setting reminiscent of A Midsummer's Night Dream.
Adams, wearing jeans, a t-shirt by Swedish black metal group Bathory and classic Vision Street Wear skate shoes, revealed that the theatre had laid dormant for nearly 40 years before an electrician recently discovered the forgotten venue by accident.
Electrical currents would be an aggravatingly dominant theme, as a constant static sound kept clacking through the speakers. Jessica Lea Mayfield had her otherwise beautiful and languid opening set completely ruined by the bothersome noise, and Adams' team minimized the distraction but it never fully went away.
Fortunately Adams did his best to draw us in to the music for two and a half hours, starting with beloved Heartbreaker tune Oh My Sweet Carolina, then straight into the title track from his mellow new album, Ashes & Fire, all while playing the same tri-coloured acoustic guitar he's been armed with most of this year.
Lesser-known songs like This House Is Not for Sale, Dear Chicago and Whiskeytown's 16 Days were highlights, but a piano rendition of New York, New York had the room in hushed awe.
And in the spirit of vaudeville, Adams seemed comically inspired. Known perhaps unjustly for prickly interviews and on-stage confrontations, the L.A.-based singer/songwriter had fans howling through two separate improv songs, one about Dracula's cooking skills and the other about a lack of respect for his Motorhead "jersey" (Brit speak for sweater).
Of course that obnoxious breed of fan who come to acoustic, theatre shows and feel compelled to yell their non-hilarious quips, hoping selfishly for some kind of recognition, were inevitably present. These people are scum, as one buffoon in the orchestra box proved, but Adams wasn't razzled and even thanked him as the "freest, most vocal man in town" during the encore.
Adams would have been justified to storm out or throw the kind of tantrum that once besmirched his rep, considering all obstructive factors. He's obviously changed his ways, but thankfully those music talents remain constant.