Until last night I'd never gone to a Ryan Adams concert. As much as I love his music, I never had the desire to gamble my $30 ($60 with my wife), to see if I'd experience Ryan Adams, the vastly talented songwriter and captivating performer, or Ryan Adams, the petulant brat who'd lumber drunk through a set, or storm off the stage in a tantrum twenty minutes into the show. But with the positive reviews for his current tour and the fact that he's sober now, I decided to take the risk this time around.
Adams and his band, The Cardinals, took the stage around 8:30 (the show was scheduled to begin at 8:00). Wasting no more time, Adams offered a "good evening" to the crowd as he and the band settled onto their stools, and they struck into "Please Do Not Let Me Go," one of his finest bittersweet ballads. This showcased Adams' clear, impassioned tenor (all the more impressive given the theater's wonderful acoustics), and the Cardinals' impeccable musicianship.
Being an acoustic show, the set list favored slower material, mostly from his three 2005 releases, and his new album, Easy Tiger. But Adams and the band performed each song with tireless precision and intensity. From the raw emotion of "The Sun Also Sets," to the tender melody of "Wild Flowers," nearly every song from the evening was stunning.
Even the five songs culled from 2005's spare and meandering 29 (only Adams plays on the album), sounded fresh and compelling in their concise, full-band versions. The highlight of the evening was Adams' fiery rendition of "Peaceful Valley," on which the Cardinals nailed the multi-part a cappella harmonies during the chorus.
For what would be the final song, Adams came to the front of the stage to sing "Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard," offering one last powerful performance. Adams gave a wave to the crowd after he finished the song and left the stage along with the band to the crowd's enthusiastic applause.
The houselights stayed down for over five minutes, and the audience continued cheering, anxious for an encore. There wasn't one though, and the reaction of the fans sitting in my vicinity ranged from satisfaction, to anger, to disbelief. As my wife and I made our way out of the theater, one college-age girl told us, "Don't go yet. He played 24 songs last night in Louisville. He's got to play an encore!"
As much as we wanted to hear an encore ourselves, with the houselights up and "Rock the Casbah" playing, it was clear Adams was calling it a night. That girl may still be standing in the balcony as I type this.
Admittedly, the ending of the show was a bit peculiar. If the houselights had come up right after the band left the stage, or if Adams had verbally bid a "goodnight," we still would've been disappointed there wasn't an encore–everyone wants more terrific music after all. But I think fewer people would've been annoyed. It was like we'd been served a delicious meal, were shown the dessert menu, and then were told the restaurant was closing immediately.
With Ryan Adams' infamous erraticism, there's no telling why he didn't come back for an encore. Although he didn't say much during the show — actually, he said nearly nothing — he seemed in a good mood and he certainly poured himself into the performance. Several times during the show, he motioned to his sound guy to adjust the monitors, so maybe he had gotten perturbed about that and didn't figure the problem would ever be fixed to his satisfaction. Who knows?
Still, even though an encore would've been nice (I envy anyone who attended the Louisville show), the 18 songs Adams did play were incredible. So I suspect I'll be willing to roll the dice again if he comes around on a tour in the fall.
Please Do Not Let Me Go
Let It Ride
Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.
Blue Sky Blues
I Taught Myself How to Grow Old
Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play the Part
Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard Powered by Sidelines