Some musicians take time to grow on me. A seed will be planted with one or two songs, but weeks, months, or even years may go by before I listen to another one. Sometimes I may hear a few other songs, but they won’t catch. In time a few more songs or albums may find their way across my musical table and their diggability may grow. Eventually I may even grow into true fandom, and on a few occasions that grows into total obsession.
Ryan Adams is such an artist. I first heard him with his big hit “New York, New York,” shortly after 9/11. His infectious, hopeful tune about a city so prominent in the nations mind, coupled with the video, in heavy MTV rotation, shot on the Brooklyn Bridge helped ease my own (as well as many others) pain in such tumultuous times.
It wasn’t enough to make me buy the album, though. Over the next few months, I heard little more of his work. There was a song or two that came to me through movies or TV shows, and I caught him performing during a Willie Nelson tribute, all of which I enjoyed but other than making a mental note that I kind of dug him, I did nothing else.
More months slipped by and my Mondo Brethren began praising the name of Saint Ryan. I downloaded a few more upbeat songs and found I really was beginning to dig this man. Then I got a copy of Demolition and all was nearly lost. At the time I was living in a tiny apartment in Strasbourg with only my laptop and some cheap, crappy speakers of which to fulfill my musical needs. Demolitions brand of slower, softer, sad-bastard songs did not bode so well in this format. None, but “Hallelujah” clicked with me and I put off my Ryan Adams obsession after that.
The Mondo Brethren continued to elevate St. Ryan to savior status, so I found a few more tunes that weren’t so depressing and my interest again perked up. Then Ryan found the Cardinals and I grew to true love and ultimate obsession status. Something about that band brings out the best in Mr. Adams, and I dug it like nothing else. Not long after I found Heartbreaker, and downloaded the unreleased Destroyer and I knew I’d never come back.
I even grew to love Demolition.
Ryan Adams and the Cardinals
Northern Lights, Clifton Park, NY
If they only played the opening song – “Easy Plateau” – I’d call this one of my favorite bootlegs ever. The beginning of the song is just cut off, but it fades into a nice interplay of sweet licks. Though they’ve only been playing together for maybe a year or so by this point, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals sound like they are old compatriots and road warriors. They are gelled, greased, and working together like a fine engine. Clearly this is a band on a mission. Ryan takes me to that place where “the cold don’t come and the wind don’t blow,” and every things all right.
Damn, Sam, if this is the first song, what’s next?
What’s next is nearly three hours of some darn fine rock and roll. Did I say that this band is playing like well tested road warriors? Well, it stands true through two tellings. I hate to compare them to the Grateful Dead, because well Brewster’s always rattling on about the Grateful Dead and there ain't nothing like the Dead, but these guys create a cohesive sounds that reminds me very much of those boys in their prime. Ryan seems to understand this as well, because he’s sure throwing out his best Jerry Garcia licks. They don’t ever get particularly out there or spacey, but each instrument seems to be telepathically transmitting what they are doing and where they are going to everyone else. It’s the type of thing I live for. Stretching a song in different directions, yet retaining a cohesive whole.
It must have been a hot June night there in New York for the band has to stop several times throughout to retune their instruments. Ryan complains loudly about the heat and it’s impact upon the equipment, but this non-professional ear can’t tell the difference. In fact if the heat is screwing them up, here’s hoping for a life of brutal summers for them.
Early in the first set they start to stretch out with an eleven minutes “What Sin” howls and yelps the blues like demons on fire. And the improvisational nature of the beast remains throughout the entire show. They even give nod to the Grateful Dead by covering their classic “Bird Song” to close out the first set.
Not everything is loud with a growl, for to love Ryan Adams is to love his soft side too. To the Cardinals praise, they know how to turn down the howling beast and allow the pink underbelly to show when things get slow and soft. Songs like “She Wants to Play Hearts” and “When Stars Go Blue” are performed beautifully, with tenderness and just enough bite to keep them interesting.
Though there are a few too many interruptions with heat warped instruments and rambly chatter, Ryan and the Cardinals put on a fantastic show full of too many highlights to list.
Though I came to Ryan Adams a bit late in the game, and my interest was slow to grow, shows like this make me thank the rock gods for having him around and this chance to have captured it on tape.