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Concert Review: Taking a Gamble With Ryan Adams and the Cardinals at the Germantown Performing Arts Center

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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.

Set List

Please Do Not Let Me Go
Dear John
Let It Ride

The Sun Also Sets
Goodnight Rose
Night Birds
Blue Hotel
Starlight Diner
Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.
Blue Sky Blues
I Taught Myself How to Grow Old
Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play the Part
Carolina Rain
Peaceful Valley
Magnolia Mountain
Goodnight Hollywood Boulevard

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About Jason Middlekauff

  • I saw Adams about a year ago in a solo acoustic show, and he was so drugged out he forgot his words, slurred his speech, left the stage repeatedly, and did entire songs twice after forgetting he’d done them the first time.

    He was an absolute mess, so I can definitely appreciate the “rolling the dice” aspect of your review. I’m going to see him again with the Cardinals (on assignment for BC actually) later this month, so I’m hoping my luck is as good as yours was.

    Nice job on the review Jason.


  • Jason

    I think you’ll be in for a treat this time around, Glen.

  • I haven’t seen him, but I’ve downloaded some of these recent shows from the Ryan Adams Archive. I can vouch that Adams is absolutely ON lately. As for the lack of encore/short-show issue, I’m going to have to go with what Robert Fripp has said about such things – if things jell with a short performance, don’t complain because you can either get a short, fantastic performance or you can get a long, drawn-out, subpar performance. From what I’ve seen on the Archive site, he’s done very few shows longer than about 85-95 minutes. (The Somerville, MA show from 6/29 is a rare 150 minute show. Download it if you can – it’s a great soundboard recording. Also grab 6/24 for a stunning soundboard recording. Short show, however.)

  • Dustin McFinklestein

    Great Review. I attended the concert myself and was extremely perplexed by it’s ending.

    It’s hard for me to complain about the audience not recieving an encore, as it was a wonderful performance and Ryan has never sounded better. I’ve seen Ryan Adams and the Cardinals previously and this was definitely one of their best performances. Great setlist as well.

    The start time was definitely annoying, though. That, combined with not playing an encore is what bewildered and angered most of the audience. Not to mention the fact that not once did he say anything to the audience or even look our way. I’m glad he’s not on drugs anymore, but some of the concert felt like we were watching Ryan sing in his bedroom to a mirror. Yes, honestly.

    Maybe I’m being too critical. The audience wasn’t that respectful, as most of the seats weren’t filled until 8:20 and between songs you could hear ridiculous outbursts from various members of the crowd (“Play some Rock N’ Roll!” or “Play ‘COme Pick Me Up!” ). As much as I’d love to hear Adams and his band play Rock N’ Roll material, it was neither the performance or venue for such songs. Apparently, it was the same for an encore.

  • Kristen Broadus

    I was definately let down by the ending of his performance. I was actually so upset I cried on my way home. I’m going to disagree with you on his seemingly good mood. I thought he seemed fucked up. He almost fell off his stool three times at the beginning of the set and he kept his head down nearly the entire time. He only smiled a handfull of times and it was at his bandmates and that seemed to be the only time he felt comfortable on stage. He seemed displaced to me.

    I completely agree with Dustin McFinklestein about everything he mentioned.

  • Jason


    Yes, the late start time was a bit annoying. That being said, he’s not the only performer who has started late before–I realize that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, though.

    I wonder if some seats weren’t filled until 8:20 because some people thought he had an opening act? It may have also had something to do with no food or drink being allowed in the theater and people trying to down some beers before going in.

    As for people yelling, I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert where there weren’t a few obnoxious people yelling “Play this!” or “Play that!” From what I read about his show in Louisville the night before, some people did the same thing. But he played over two hours there, so I don’t think that’s why he chose not to play an encore. But who knows?


    Well, from where I was sitting he looked like he was in a good mood–not stomping off stage, yelling, etc. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, but I don’t think he was drunk, high, etc. His singing and playing were impeccable.

  • Ashley

    This kind of stuff is typical of Ryan (almost expected, really), it’s what makes seeing him live and seeing a good show really special. I’ve seen him a few times live, and have seen him way worse than what you apparently saw at the Germantown show. Like the Louisville show in back in May, where he came on stage wearing a shower cap and huge sunglasses, and played for only 20 minutes, the entire time with the stage lights off except for four tiny blue tinted bulbs, and never said anything to the crowd except for thanks. I’d say you caught him on a pretty good night. See him the next time you get an opportunity, even if he acts crazy it’ll be worth it.

  • Jason

    Oh, I intend to catch him on his fall tour if he comes in my vicinity.

  • mark

    He probably played that long in Louisville to make up for the 25 minute performance he gave the month before.

  • erik

    I was at the Louisville show and an amazing one it was, he was pretty talkative and seemed to be really having a good time, later saying he just wanted to jam out and play tonight.

  • me

    ok his music is good…..but a lot of people go to see him live to see him put on his crazy ‘act’ ….i so stress ACT lol….it’s all contrived…..he doesn’t have a very big fan base (which is perfect in my opinion) but he has to eat…if he can’t get people in for his music alone then he’ll get them in to see if he goes insane…… just don’t be so gullible folks…..he’s a businessman at heart… 😉