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I was born at a relatively young age. Growing up consumed the better part of my childhood. As a young man I chased a lot of girls. But they kept getting away. Then I got older and even slower, so I got married. I've lived in New York City almost since before I moved here. I summer in Manhattan, which is like New York City, but with more humidity.

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Ryan Adams at Town Hall, December 6, 2006
Monday, December 18, 2006

APW favorites Ryan Adams and the Cardinals played a three-night stand at Town Hall December 4, 5, and 6. I would have loved to have been at all three gigs, but I passed on the first night because I couldn’t convince my wife of the inherent romance of celebrating our wedding anniversary at a Ryan Adams concert; then the next night I had to stay home because my daughter was under the weather.

I did manage to make it to night three, but it is clear from a quick scan of the set lists for the three shows that Adams treated the stand like one long concert in three movements; he didn’t repeat a single song across the three nights. On Monday, Adams played 21 songs, without a break. He stuck close to the general format of his recent shows, heavy on the Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights material that have formed the backbone of the Cardinals repertoire, plus a sprinkling of new songs presumably destined for one of the three records he says he has coming in ’07 (Adams has debuted and road tested at least 15 new songs since July). Tuesday night, having taken many of the band’s staple numbers off the table, he dug a little deeper, but also the show was only 14 songs long and there was an intermission.

Singer-songwriter Leona Ness opened the third show. If I were to give her an Indian name, it would be Single Pining Girl With Unexpected Chord Progressions. She played solo save for an endorsement-slash-backing vocal by Ryan on her first song. Quirky, honest songwriting, although once she moved to piano the Rickie Lee Jones influence was betrayed.

Adams and the Cardinals hit at about ten after nine, and open with “Come Pick Me Up” off Heartbreaker. It is a twangy, dewy read, with Adams playing some harmonica straight out of the Dylan/Neil Young playbook, underscoring the deep roots his work has in the best of so-called classic rock. This version is a gooey alt.country masterpiece.

“When the Stars Go Blue” is up next, a spare, jangly version that is gorgeous, aching before resolving into a shit-hot rocker. Adams begins the first verse to “Oh My Sweet Carolina” almost solo, just voice and guitar with a gentle backing by Jon Graboff on pedal steel; the band steps up, the steel remains pronounced, lilting through the song; again Adams layers on the Classic Rock harp.

Adams sort of bifurcates between two poles—the high lonesome, country rocker, and the Paul Westerberg-influenced punk-rocker. “Love is Hell” veers squarely into the latter territory, and the Cardinals follow him there without missing a beat; it is a big, brooding, pure piece of razor rock. The refrain (Love is… HEEE-EEELLLLL!!) is cathartic, a scream of defiance, not defeat. “This is It” delivers the back end of the one-two punch, pivoting hard on the song’s stop-time riff. Guitars screech and squeal. It is thrash and bash, visceral, thrilling. Then “Afraid Not Scared,” murky and minor, finishing with an extended jam that is a wash of sound, like fragile white glass.

By the time Adams begins “La Cienega Just Smiled,” I’m starting to think this may be one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. This take has a Cardinals-ish, country feel to it, despite the insistent backbeat of drummer Brad Pemberton. Adams plays it tonight like the broken-hearted Cowboy song it really is, and Neil Casal’s guitar leads ache right along with him.

Set break, an almost perfect 38 or so minutes.

The second set is not as good. It is as if Adams knows that he’s earned some slack with the first set, and the now he’s just pleasing himself. It becomes frustratingly hit-and-miss; the hits are glorious, but the misses mess with the flow of the night. Adams opens with “Hallelujah,” a song off his 2002 record Demolition that he’s played live only twice before. This one’s a hit. It sounds like a pop song, in a good way. At the end, Adams takes an atonal run up the neck, and the band slows, following him into a spacy decay, until there’s just a fat hum, out of which Adams emerges to hit the chorus one last time.

But the momentum begins to turn with “Judy Garland,” a new song, a bash-rocker, that is not immediately compelling. “Wish You Were Here” continues in the Paul Westerberg-ish rock mode; I’m generally less impressed by the bashing.

The ballad “Blue Sky Blues” is next, with Adams at the piano. A nice piece of melancholy. Then back to the lilt’n’twang for of “Games,” featuring some fine pedal steel from Graboff. Adams follows up with an honest, bleeding-heart version of Heartbreaker fave “Winding Wheel,” a solid hit.

Adams trades verses with guitarist Neal Casal on the Casals song “Willow Jane,” then busts out “29,” the Truckin’-covered-by-Paul-Westerberg opener off last year’s record of the same name, the band taking it into the bash-o-sphere. Then Adams sits at the piano for “Rescue Blues,” taken with sweet restraint as the band eases in. Casal makes the riff feel like a Band song, a thing of fragile beauty.

And you figure Adams is moving into the home stretch, but instead “Rescue Blues” is the last number of the night. No encore, despite maybe 25 minutes left till the room’s curfew. Afterward, some fans speculate that Adams had a bad reaction to some audience members up front who talked through songs; others claim Adams is not at his best in a staid, seated venue like Town Hall.

Whatever. He was at his best for the first set and parts of the second, and I came away wishing that I’d seen all three shows. And really, the only real knock I can put on the show is that it should have been longer, and you know what they say—always leave ‘em wanting more. Next time he comes through town, I’ll be first in line.

Here is “Hallelujah,” from an audience recording of the show available in FLAC format at the Ryan Adams Archive.


Posted by: --josh-- @ 10:26 AM  

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