Adam Lambert brings his Glam Nation Tour to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium In a summer that has seen concerts and entire tours fall by the wayside, Adam Lambert has put together something impressive: A sold-out tour of large clubs and small theaters playing to a thoroughly devoted audience that comes not for the big single but to bask in the presence of the artist. Most concerts these days feel like a luxury; to his fans, an Adam Lambert concert feels like a necessity.
Wednesday night, Adam brought the Glam Nation Tour to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, a former church tabernacle and the longtime (and, with the recent flood damage done to the Grand Ole Opry House, the current) home of the Grand Ole Opry (you remember, the place Adam told Randy Travis he had "no plans" to play). Fellow American Idol alumnus Allison Iraheta and Australian guitar whiz Orianthi opened. The sold-out crowd of nearly 2,400 included Sleepwalker co-writer Aimee Mayo, former Idols Kellie Pickler and Chris Sligh, and Big Machine Records head Scott Borchetta.
Adam began with the stage bathed in purple light, singing Voodoo against a cloudy, full-moon backdrop. In his top hat and tattered long coat, he resembled Baron Samedi, the hard-partying undertaker character of voodoo lore, a loa who escorts souls on their journey into the netherworld. And maybe, with second song Down the Rabbit Hole -- during which lasers created patterns on the stained-glass windows at the back of the Ryman balcony -- there was just a touch of the Mad Hatter, as well.
When the band began Ring of Fire, the Ryman crowd went absolutely ballistic. Easily one of the night's most anticipated performances, Ring of Fire has a lot of history in this venue.
Johnny Cash met June Carter, his future wife, backstage at the Ryman during a Grand Ole Opry show back in the '50s. Carter later wrote the song about her feelings for Cash, then Cash took it, turned it back on her, and made it into a huge hit. During the '60s, Cash shot his television show for ABC on the Ryman stage, and the venue hosted the memorial service for the song's co-writer, Merle Kilgore, in 2005. (For what it's worth, I think Cash -- the kind of guy who got a kick out of sitting on his patio with a crow call just to fool crows into thinking he was one of them -- would've loved Adam's take on Ring of Fire and the way it gets under some people's skin.)
Not until Fever did Adam do a song that appears on the basic version of the For Your Entertainment album. It's a huge risk for a performer to start a set with so many non-album tracks -- the only other act I can remember seeing pull a stunt like that was Bruce Springsteen, and he'd been playing to his faithful for nearly 40 years at that point -- but Adam's fans, many of whom may have the entire set memorized from watching YouTube videos of his previous concert stops, stayed with him like they were hits they'd heard all their lives.
Adam flirted with all the dancers -- and some amazingly high notes, as well -- during Fever. Then the dancers got a tribal/industrial intro to Sleepwalker, while Adam changed into a full-length black coat.
After Sleepwalker, Adam said, "It is such an honor to be performing here at the Ryman," as he sat down on a stool for the acoustic portion of the set.
Adam has constructed his concert like a three-act piece of musical theater. The first act is filled with the "mystery ... intrigue ... sex" of songs like Voodoo, Down the Rabbit Hole and Fever. The second act, with its acoustic songs, has all the tension: the questioning of Whataya Want From Me, the crushing heartbreak of Soaked and the emotional turnaround of Aftermath, a song Adam said was about "looking inside yourself for the answers." The third act begins when Adam returns in sparkly, sleeveless black, and it's all celebration from Sure Fire Winners through Strut, Music Again and If I Had You.
That song, which closed the main set with an introduction of the band and the dancers, plus an audience sing-along, "is what this whole show's about," Adam told the crowd, because "you're nothing anything if you're not connected with love." One of the best things about the live Adam Lambert experience is the way he has completely reinterpreted many of his songs for the tour. Anybody who comes in expecting the arrangements from For Your Entertainment is in for a big surprise.
The songs the band performed acoustically, for instance, were great showcases for that voice, giving it plenty of room to play. Soaked, with its classically romantic melody and solo piano accompaniment for much of the song, took on a structural resemblance to Eric Carmen's dramatic '70s pop ballad All By Myself. Sure Fire Winners, almost a dance anthem on disc, got a thumping rock treatment.
Both of the encore songs -- Mad World and Whole Lotta Love -- sounded completely different than they did when Adam performed them on American Idol. Mad World quickened to around the pace of the Tears for Fears version, while Whole Lotta Love settled into a slinking, acoustic groove with a spacey, stretched-out middle section.
The few weak spots will work themselves out with experience. The transitions during Adam's costume changes could be smoother (though it wasn't like anybody was complaining, and they clearly thought the pay-off was worth the wait), and Adam sometimes relies on the obvious, even going so far at one point as to explain his set list.
And then there's the length of Adam's set, which many reviews have noted. Bluntly put, it's short -- slightly more than an hour, including the encore. But don't think the audience felt short-changed. Here's the thing: the show's not just short, it's quick. The entire concert lasted about three hours, but it seemed like half that. Allison's six-song set flew by, and Adam's hour felt like about 15 minutes. Just like Adam's team understands how to create demand for tickets, Adam gets one of the basic show-biz rules: Always leave 'em wanting more.