By Kevin Krein
1. A number of months ago, a young woman approached me while I was at work.
“Are you Kevin,” she asked. And to this, my gut reaction was to either respond with a) “Who’s asking?,” or b) to give her a stern look and insist that she keep my name out her mouth.
I figured neither of these was the appropriate way to answer, so I simply said that yes, I was Kevin, only showing minor hesitation in my reaction, mildly apprehensive about where this exchange was headed.
“You write for the Scene, right?”
Whoooooo boy. Here we go.
This conversation took place very shortly after the publication of “Conjuring The Sex Demon,” the February installment of “The Bearded Life”—the column I used to contribute to the Southern Minnesota Scene magazine.
The gist of the piece was that having sex is messy and difficult and harder than it has to be, and while I hadn’t received any pushback on it, I was just waiting for some conservative or sensitive reader to stumble across it, taking issue with the fact that I wrote 1,500+ words on ‘bedroom things.’
However, this is not what happened.
This young woman proceeded to thank me for writing a piece about my concert anxiety, titled “A Supposedly Fun Thing…and A Terrible Source of Anxiety.” It had appeared many months prior to this in the magazine’s annual “music” issue. She said both she and her husband also have pretty substantial anxiety about going out to concerts, so they were happy (as happy as one can be at somebody else’s suffering) that they weren’t alone.
The column in question no longer exists online—scrubbed away from the internet thanks to a botched website re-launch, so here’s the long story short: perhaps it has to do with my debilitating depression and anhedonia, but I don’t have fun at concerts. I don’t like crowds; I get judgmental and disdainful of those around me; I don’t like being out late at night and having to escape the big scary city and drive the hour back home; and I get anxious about being away from my companion rabbit, even though someone is almost always at home taking care of her.
Basically, I hate stepping out of my comfort zone, even if it is only for a few hours in the evening, to go see a performer I allegedly like, in person. I’m not really sure when this became such a problem; I mean, it always was, like, an issue, but before I knew it, suddenly it became a much larger issue—and I’m well aware of it.
This, like many of my numerous personal struggles, are no surprise to me, and it’s because of that fact that I am able to talk myself out of going to almost any concert, and convince myself that I’m not going to have any fun at all, in an effort to save myself the trouble (and also save money.)
2. The first time I saw Ryan Adams live was nearly a decade after I first started listening to him—blind buying Gold in December 2001 following its four-star review in Rolling Stone. Over a dozen albums, multiple meltdowns, substance abuse issues, backing band and stylistic changes later, Adams, at the tail end of 2011, was married, sober, and touring solo in support of his ‘comeback’ record, Ashes and Fire—his first effort of new material since 2008.
Maybe my anxiety wasn’t as bad six years ago, or maybe at this point in time, I was willing to try to power through any apprehensions I had. Adams was performing at the State Theatre in Minneapolis (a venue with seats, which is always a plus) and through an acquaintance that works for the Hennepin Theatre Trust, I was able to get pretty good seats for myself and my friend Chris—my go-to ‘concert buddy,’1 and also a Ryan Adams fan as well.
Much had been made about Adams’ previous appearances in the Twin Cities upon this return—including an early 2000s show that concluded with him breaking a glass on stage at First Avenue and mumbling something about just “wanting to go home for Christmas,” as well as an ill-fated and aborted show at the State in 2007 that found Adams storming off following monitor issues and rising tensions on stage.
The December 2011 concert found Adams in relatively good spirits—sipping hot tea, he sauntered around on stage alone, switching from piano to playing the acoustic guitar. During his 24 song set, Adams was also very charming and conversational with the audience—deflecting the obligatory shout of “Freebird” by cracking a joke, and telling amusing, far-fetched anecdotes in between songs.
At this point in time, my wife Wendy didn’t not like Ryan Adams; I think she just kind of filed him away with the rest of the ‘sad white person music’ I tended to be drawn toward. Within the last three years, she has really warmed to his entire canon though—specifically favoring his massive Live at Carnegie Hall boxed set that she listens to while at work.
Upon the release of his latest album, Prisoner, came the news of the practically obligatory tour in support of it, with a stop in St. Paul at the extensively renovated and newly opened Palace Theatre—so new, in fact, that the venue itself was not open for business when the tickets went on sale.
2(a). There’s a mindset that if you throw money at a problem, you can usually make it go away, or, at least make it slightly less of a problem. It’s the mindset that I adopted when I hired a service to come and mow our lawn twice a month, because it’s worth roughly $80 for me not to have to do it.
But how much money does one need to throw at my anxiety in order for me to try and have a good time?
Let’s just say that it cost around $500.
3. It was February when the concert tickets were purchased, and maybe about two months later, we realized that the date of the show—July 29th—is incredibly close to our wedding anniversary (August 1st.)
I also realized that the day of the show was a Saturday. How often does that happen—that you get tickets to a concert that isn’t on a school night, but, instead, it’s on the WEEKEND?
Things started to fall into place almost too easily from there—I was able to secure the most responsible rabbit sitter to stay
overnight in our home to watch Annabell; I was able to tap into my stockpile of PTO and get the weekend off of work; and we were able to get a reservation at the ritzy St. Paul Hotel, conveniently located only a few blocks away from the Palace Theatre.
For two people who rarely do anything fun or who rarely go anywhere—not because we don’t want to, but we are both very busy with work or extra-curriculars and because of my crippling depression and anhedonia and you know sometimes it’s hard to get a rabbit sitter on short notice or whatever—but for two people who sometimes don’t get out much…we were going to try to make this into a thing.
4. After VALET PARKING THE CAR (what? Who have I become?), we wandered into the lobby of the St. Paul Hotel, and after checking in and taking the elevator up to our floor, Wendy and I both briefly wondered if we were too poor to be staying there for the evening.
I mean, in a sense, yes we probably are, but also, no, no we are not, because my money is good too, dammit.
Following a few moments to freshen up and take in all the amenities we were offered—a hair dryer! Plush bathrobes! Tiny soaps and shampoos! A safe for our valuables! A mini-fridge pre-stocked with overpriced cans of beer and a small shelf filled with snacks and additional alcoholic beverages!—we headed out into the big scary city to eat dinner prior to the show.
The restaurant we chose was literally right next door to the Palace Theatre, but midway through our meal, I realized that I left the earplugs I brought along back at the hotel room. Wendy packed up her leftovers, and we started back the few blocks to stash the food in the fridge2, grab the earplugs, and then double back to get in line for the show.
As we were nearing the hotel, I made the minor mistake of making eye contact with someone else on the sidewalk.
The person I made eye contact with—a tall, older man, carrying a backpack, who seemed very exhausted—began speaking to us, explaining how he was going to be unable to check in at the shelter he stays at because his identification had been stolen, and that his blood sugar was getting low, and that he was wondering if we could spare a couple of dollars so he could get something to eat at Subway.
I glanced very quickly at Wendy, possibly looking for an answer on what to do. I proceeded to open my wallet and find three bills—a $10, and two $1s; I gave him the two dollars and told him that was all the cash I had on me. He thanked us, and we continued walking. Wendy was shaken because she, in sudden retrospect, wondered if she should have just offered him her leftover food—but if she had done so, would he have even wanted it, or would he have been offended by the gesture.
“How much did you give him,” she asked, as we were crossing the street. I told her, to which she responded, “Well he can’t get Subway for two dollars.”
I felt like an asshole, and I hate being put in these situations. I never know what the, for lack of a better term, etiquette, is when you are approached for money on the street—do you just straight up lie and say you have no cash at all? Should I have handed him all $12? Should we have chased him down to offer him Wendy’s leftovers? These were questions we ruminated on during our brisk walk back to the Palace as we stood in line, and, believe it or not, were approached by yet another person asking for money.
However, this time, it was not a relatively polite man with a pitch that may or may not have been rehearsed—it was a woman, a muscly blonde woman of small stature3, who was frantically running up to nearly everyone in the line outside, barking at them about needing money.
“I’m sorry,” I managed to stammer, moderately alarmed by the whole Lynchian vibe of the situation. “I don’t have any cash on me.”
It seems worth mentioning that, like, over four hours later, after the show was finished and the crowds were dispersing into the night, she was still out in front of the venue, still asking for money.
5. One of the aspects of the piece I wrote w/r/t concert anxiety was that in going to a concert, you come face to face with the fact that, unfortunately, the artist in question’s fan base is made up of a plethora of different individuals, from all different backgrounds—the audience at the Ryan Adams concert was not a sea of men, who are my age, who are me.
Yes, sure, there were a lot of bearded and sullen looking white men in their mid-30s there, but there were also colorful characters: such as the guy wearing cargo shorts who proudly boasted to his group of friends that he wouldn’t spend more than $20 to see David Gray in concert; there was the man standing next to Wendy who apparently didn’t understand the concept of ‘personal space’; and there was the obnoxious cretin who filed in behind us in line outside the venue, wearing a flat-billed baseball cap covered in emoticon patches—a caricature of a person who seemed to have just discovered that he had a voice, that he needed to say everything incredibly loudly with that voice, and that the words he spoke were the most important thing anyone ever said in the history of the world.
6. Over 100 years old, the Palace Theatre sat abandoned for around 40 years. The City of St. Paul recently stepped in to rescue it from being condemned, and management of the venue itself is handled by the folks responsible for First Avenue.
It’s an interesting space—the dilapidated walls give it what could only be called “crumbling chic.” That line in Ghostbusters where Harold Ramis describes a neighborhood as a “demilitarized zone” came to mind almost instantly. The layout tries to juxtapose the feeling of being at First Avenue (a big, open ‘standing room only’ floor) with that of being at a theatre (a tall balcony with seats.)4
Once a vaudeville theatre in its earliest days, as well as a movie house, acoustically speaking, the Palace is not really structured to handle ‘rock’ concerts in the year 2017. I mean, I’ve been in venues that have sounded worse, but a cavernous boom plagued the show—a few times the mix in the show got away from the sound engineer and everything just became a wall of noise. Wendy described the Palace accurately as like listening to something in a metal cookie tin.
7. Following a relatively tepid and forgettable set from the last minute supporting act Jillian Jacqueline, Ryan Adams and his ‘Unknown Band’ took the stage at 9 p.m. sharp; this is, of course, after stagehands properly waved burning sage near every microphone stand and on every piece of equipment, as well as ensuring that both the fog machines and pots of incense were hot boxing the theatre.
Introduced by crewmember dressed in a demon costume, Adams and the band launched into a crowd pleasing, loose, and loud version of “New York, New York.”
‘Loud’ is the keyword to describe Adams’ show for both this phase in his career as well as when he performs with a band—so it’s a good thing we walked back to the hotel to get the ear plugs, and trying to compare this show to the one I previously saw so many years ago is like comparing an apple to a kind of fruit that nobody has ever heard of before.
Playing five songs from his most recent LP Prisoner, Adams peppered the 20+ song, two hour set with three tracks from his 2014, self-titled effort, as well as material recorded with his former backing band The Cardinals, deep cut surprises like the Love is Hell song “This House is Not For Sale,” the stand alone single “Blue Light” and it’s accompanying b-side “On My Life,”
and the centerpiece of the evening, a dramatically re-arranged and impressive version of “When The Stars Go Blue.”
Adams also found time to improvise a song about how great St. Paul was that he was here in the summer, and it wasn’t ‘fucking snowing.’
Material from Prisoner as well as Ryan Adams lent themselves best to the Unknown Band’s set up—a keyboard player, lead guitarist, powerful percussionist, and bassist. Those albums, while they do show hints of his ‘alternative country’ past, are very ‘rock’ in their sound—heavy on the chorus effect pedals, giving each song a shimmery feeling.
I hesitate to say that this penchant for ‘rock’ didn’t work as well on some of the older material, however, it did make songs like “This House is Not For Sale”—originally downcast and performed with a strummy acoustic guitar leading the way—was nearly unrecognizable at first with its loud, pummeling drumming, and Adams’ wild strumming on an electric instead.
One thing that didn’t work was the lengthy medley of Cold Roses tracks “Magnolia Mountain” and “Cold Roses”—blended together by seemingly endless stretches of masturbatory guitar noodling on behalf of both Adams and his lead guitarist, the combination of the two lasted well over 20 minutes, and it was the only time I looked at my watch to be like, “HOLY SHIT B, CAN WE WRAP THIS UP?”
Adams’ set came to a seemingly abrupt and volatile close. In one of the few times he addressed the crowd, he had said he was in a good mood, so something must have changed between that point, and the final two songs of the show.
Following the desperate pleadings of “We Disappear”—sample lyrics: “Broken mirror and my hand starts to bleed/Wish I could explain, but it hurts to breath/Didn’t fit in my chest, so I wore it on my sleeve…we disappear, we fade away”—he tore his guitar off and threw it into the air. It crashed onto the stage (still plugged in and connected to his pedal board) making an awful racket.
He then tore the cable from it, and pitched the guitar toward the front of the stage, where it almost flipped over the monitors and would have hit the people standing in the front row. Outfitted with another guitar handed to him by a tech (he switched instruments in between almost every song), the stage was flooded with more thick fog and incense smoke, and the band launched into a very ramshackle, unhinged version of the Heartbreaker track “Shakedown on 9th,” featuring that guy in the demon costume on tambourine.
The band departed, the house lights came up (a sure sign that we needed to go), stagehands opened the side curtains to try to clear the stage of smoke, and equipment started to be turned off and disassembled. We, along with many other people in the crowd, stood there encouragingly clapping and hopeful that Adams could find it in his heart to wander back out for more.
Eventually, he did—house lights dimmed, equipment was powered back up, and the band went into one encore—the fan favorite “Come Pick Me Up.” It was clear after they finished that they were not coming back out again and it was really time for us to leave.
In the past, Adams has discussed how he hates the idea of an ‘encore’—that pretending the show is finished, leaving the stage, and then making a big deal about coming back out is, to him, stupid. Saturday night’s concert was night two for the band in St. Paul. The Friday night show was treated to a surprising three song encore, including “I See Monsters,” “Invisible Riverside,” and “Do I Wait.”
Adams shares his handwritten setlist for every concert via Twitter, and night two in St. Paul had a planned encore of “Peaceful Valley,” “Come Pick Me Up,” and amazingly enough, his 2003 cover of the Oasis song “Wonderwall.”
Maybe they just ran out of time—maybe improvising a song about St. Paul, and maybe the 20+ minutes of noodling from the Cold Roses medley pushed the band over its projected 11 p.m. end time.
Or maybe Adams lost his temper. A notoriously mercurial personality, the crowd was given numerous warnings about using flash photography during the show, due to Adams’ struggles with Ménière’s disease. I definitely did see some idiot’s flash go off during the second half of the show, so maybe that was it—maybe that was enough, and we, as an audience, didn’t deserve more.
Whatever happened on stage—if the abrupt and volatile end of the concert was not intentional, I get it. I understand what it is like riding that emotional rollercoaster and you can be fine one second, and then, if you’re me, feel the icy fingers of depression slowly wrapping around your throat, and then tightening.
7(a). There were a few times throughout the night when I found myself, out of habit, sliding into my concert anxieties—checking the time to see how late it was getting, before I stopped and had to remind myself that we didn’t have to get out of a parking garage, drive an hour back home, and that I didn’t have to get up for work the next day; times when I thought about texting our rabbit sitter again just to ‘check in.’
There were times when I had to remind myself—I am supposed to be having a good time.
Is this what ‘fun’ feels like?5
8. There was a moment, following our first run in with the man asking for money, when we were at the hotel, on the elevator to head back out and it stopped on a lower floor. A family got on—older, adult children with their mother, all of whom were carrying open containers, either beer, or wine in a glass. The son may or may not have had the collar popped on his polo shirt; I can’t be certain. I may just be making a gross stereotype about upper class white folks.
We rode down to the lobby, where the father/husband was meeting them—he too, was carrying a large glass of beer and also may or may not have been wearing a polo shirt.
As we exited the hotel, Wendy and I both kind of chuckled and rolled our eyes at that family, their need to toddle around the hotel with open containers, and their suspected wealth.
We are by no means rich, and while it hadn’t cast a shadow over our entire evening, our encounter with homelessness earlier wasn’t very easy to shake. “We have a lot to be thankful for,” Wendy had said earlier while we were still in our hotel room. “We can afford to go to this concert and stay in this fancy hotel.” Then, later, after our shared elevator ride with our thirsty, polo shirted individuals, she added, “Those people have a lot to be thankful for too.”
She’s right, of course. We do, and it’s easy to lose sight of that, or to take things for granted.
But we also have each other to be thankful for.
While eight years of marriage is not a milestone anniversary to reach, eight years is also nothing to scoff at. We know couples that made it a lot fewer, so I think we earned the right, at least for a weekend, to be sentimental and to be a little more affectionate with one another in public than usual.
9. He’s not playing it on this tour, possibly because it’s about his ex-wife, but there’s this Ryan Adams6 song from 2011 called “Lucky Now,” that gives a nod to his reckless and volatile past, while embracing the calm and stability that he found in sobriety and returning to music on his own terms.
The refrain of the song has haunted me for a number of years now—“I don’t remember, were we wild and young? All that’s faded into memory. I feel like somebody I don’t know. Are we really who we used to be? Am I really who I was?”
We were never wild, though at some point, we were young—younger than we are now. There was a time when we had fewer responsibilities, or at least, fewer things to be accountable for. There was a time, I’m certain, that I probably felt a little better than I do now—less fragile and not always on the verge.
It’s strange trying to recall that time, or at the very least, that feeling. It’s like trying to remember a dream you had; you’re on the cusp of gathering all the pieces, but it’s not coming together just yet.
Am I really who I was?
Is this what fun feels like?
1- I’m barely capable of going to the store by myself, so going to a concert by myself is almost entirely out of the question. Also, Wendy was always concerned that I would ‘get murdered’ if was to go alone, so I’d need a friend to either a) save me, or b) die along side me.
2- Fun fact: if you remove the pre-stocked alcohol from the fridge, you are automatically charged for it, even if, like me, you just move it to a different shelf so that you can cram your leftover dinner inside. Turns out the shelves the cans are have sensors in them to detect a change in the weight. Guest services happily removed the charges for eight cans of beer from my bill, though this misunderstanding certainly did not help my feeling like I was too poor to be a guest at the hotel.
3- I had to do an internet search for ‘politically correct term for midget,’ and this was one of the expressions that is acceptable to use. ‘Dwarf’ is also acceptable.
4- Internet pre-sales for concert tickets are always a nightmare and incredibly stressful. In my haste (I had to do it all on my mobile phone), I misunderstood the venue’s seating chart, and erroneously thought that the floor was, yes, ‘general admission,’ but that there were seats. This, however, is not the case, and my wife hates standing during a concert.
5- After analyzing the two hours we spent with Ryan Adams, aside from wondering what exactly occurred near the end of the show, Wendy and I are both pretty sure we had a good time, and we probably enjoyed the concert; she, though, would have preferred to see him in a solo, more intimate setting, where he could have delighted the crowd with more storytelling and jokes in between songs.
6- I feel like I should mention that Ryan Adams is not nearly as well known as Wendy and I presume him to be. Sure, he played two sold out concerts in St. Paul, but when she told her co-workers who we were going to see, she was met with blank stares. And, we both were the recipients of a lot of ‘BRYAN Adams’ jokes, and that shit isn’t funny.
This article was edited by Rachel Wohrlin
Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog, Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. Known for his ‘disturbing and mean’ Twitter presence (@KevEFly), he thankfully has to keep those to 140 characters or less, and not the 4000+ words you’ve just read now.
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