Photos by Chris Gray
Ryan Adams is not difficult. Not onstage, anyway. Clad in a surely unironic Dokken T-shirt, the wafer-thin Adams – who by all accounts has been clean and sober for a while, but still needs to eat something – went out of his way Tuesday night to seem like one of the guys. Ensconcing himself stage right, further back than the drum kit, Adams almost seemed like he was hiding – from his reputation as one of the primary prima donnas in rock and roll, no doubt.
Although the photographers were warned in advance to “not do anything that might piss him off” (or something to that effect), Tuesday’s crowd – white, well-off, youngish, seated and for once silent – got no tantrums or otherwise bratty behavior, just the amiable Adams bantering about an unfortunate pre-show food allergy. They also got a fine roots-rock set (two, actually) from Adams’ Cardinals, with heavy doses of Crazy Horse and the Grateful Dead and traces of My Morning Jacket, Oasis and Pauls Westerberg and Simon.
Opening with the sprawling, beautiful ballad “Goodnight Rose,” the Cardinals played with thickety precision and a keen ear for mournful melodies; big shout-out to steel player Jon Graboff, whose spectral solos seized the spotlight Adams took such care to shun. I confess I’m not terribly familiar with Adams’ catalog, having pretty much stopped paying attention after 2001’s Gold, but the lyrical snatches I picked up during the ensuing trio of punchy Neil Young-like rockers – “I’d fix it if I could”; “Everything changes, how am I to know” – suggested Adams’ recent amends-making has been as beneficial for his songwriting as his personal life.
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Speaking of holy terrors, the Cardinals’ subsequent cover of “Wonderwall” showed why author Noel Gallagher now prefers Adams’ version to Oasis’ original. Spare and soothing – until the grungy power chords in the bridge, that is – it was the way Townes Van Zandt might have done it. Speaking of, the next song contained the line “I was waitin’ around for somebody to die,” so Adams could well have pitched it that way on purpose.
The second set brought hints of Simon’s “Under African Skies” on “Cold Roses,” a trippy space jam that genuflected to Jerry Garcia, simmering R&B-laced ballads “Please Don’t Let Me Go” and “Two,” a banging Bo Diddley beat on “Shakedown on 9th Street” and another extended Dead tribute, “Easy Plateau.” Adams is all grown up, and as long as he keeps the demons that haunted all too many of his heroes at bay, the Cardinals should continue to soar. – Chris Gray
Overheard in the bar during “Wonderwall”:
He: “I don’t want to sit down. That seat’s killing me.”
She: “I know. It’s bad.”
Text messages I sent friends during the show:
“Am I watching The Last Waltz?”
“Everybody knows this is nowhere”
“Dude, he’s doing ‘Wonderwall’ RITE NOW”
“Somebody here has a ‘St. Louis Sucks’ T-shirt on” (Go Astros!)
“Now they sound just like the Doors”