What a difference a year makes.
When I saw Ryan Adams last year here in a solo acoustic setting at Seattle's Moore Theatre, the performance was an absolute train wreck. In a weird sort of way, it was actually fascinating to watch as Adams forgot the words to his own songs, and occasionally forgot he had sung them altogether.
But it was also sad, as it became more obvious as the night wore on that — brilliant songwriter that he is — Ryan Adams was far from being, well, you know — "well."
He even "performed" a few of his songs twice — forgetting he had done them the first time around at all. And this was in between slipping behind the amps onstage, to take a hit of whatever "medication" he was apparently taking, only to return to the stage to chase it down with a hit of the wine bottle that he never strayed too far away from.
Like I said, an absolute train wreck.
By contrast, in his performance at the same Moore Theatre here in Seattle last night, Ryan Adams was strictly business. Performing with his great backing band The Cardinals in the sort of "small band" setting you might see on MTV's Unplugged, Adams barely spoke to the audience for the first half of the show — outside of a mumbled "nice to be here again" some 50 minutes after the scheduled 8:00 start time (there was no opening act).
Which, as I sat twitching in my seat with one eye cocked toward the bar, I was not exactly taking as a good sign. Fortunately, an apparently now clean Ryan Adams chose to just let the music do the talking once he finally took the stage.
As a result, on this particular night Ryan Adams was absolutely mesmerizing — and for all of the right reasons this time around. Performing several of the songs from his brilliant new Easy Tiger album, much of this concert had the same sort of down home, twangy feel as that album.
These songs were also equally balanced with a pretty fair smattering of songs from albums like Cold Roses "Easy Plateau," and "Dear John" from Jacksonville City Nights.
The band setup was about as basic as it gets. You had Adams on an acoustic guitar, augmented by another guitarist, bass, piano, pedal steel guitar, and a drummer playing one of those miniature sort of trap kits where you won't be getting anything fancier than a nice fill or two. This worked perfectly in the context of this particular material, as the focus was strictly on the songs themselves stripped to their barest essentials.
This also meant that everything about this performance was zeroed in on Adams voice, and his vocal delivery, which, like on the Easy Tiger album, was stronger than on any of his releases I can remember prior to this new album. There are songs from that album I would have loved to hear in a live setting — most notably "Rip Off" and "Halloweenhead" — that never came.
The thing is, I have my doubts that a song like "Halloweenhead" — which actually stands out on the Easy Tiger album simply because the damn thing rocks so hard — would have even worked in this particular setting anyway.
None the matter.
On the songs from that album that were performed, Adams came through like a champ in the vocal department. On "The Sun Also Sets," Adams' anguished howl on the key line "next time, next time, oh be sure" was every bit as pained as the version on the record. "Two," Adams recreation with Sheryl Crow of the sort of twangy duets Gram Parsons used to do with Emmylou Harris, was fleshed out by the entire band singing some absolutely beautiful harmonies.
As the concert wore on, Adams also began to loosen up. During "Magnolia Mountain" from the Cold Roses album, the Cardinals got into a nice improvisational mode, trading off licks with one another.
As he got further loosened up, Adams began to interact with the crowd more, telling the story of how Seattle's Moore Theatre is rumored to be haunted, which is a story I can actually somewhat back up, having once worked for the Moore's former manager. If you are ever in Seattle and happen to attend a show at the Moore, the top balcony is where the ghost is known to hang out. Just in case you were wondering.
As the concert drew to a close just before the encores, there was also a point where Adams had to take to a bullhorn to quiet some of the rowdier members of the audience screaming for some "rawk and roll."
"If you'd be patient for five minutes, we could start a song," Adams admonished the no doubt beer-fueled boogie brethren through the horn to considerable applause. But that's what you've got to love about Seattle.
As if to quiet the more restless portions of the crowd, Ryan Adams pulled out a cover of Seattle grunge icons Alice In Chains' "Down In The Hole" during the encore.
A perfect ending to a great concert. Like I said, what a difference a year makes.
Please Do Not Let Me Go
Oh My God Whatever, Etc.
The Sun Also Sets
This Is It
I Taught Myself To Grow Old
Blue Sky Blues
Down In The Hole