Earlier this week, I read a shot-by-shot analysis of the last five minutes of the Sopranos final episode. One of the less-popular post-blackout theories - that it was the show's viewers who got whacked - was dismissed by the post's author with a quick, "That’s cute. But the show was about Tony, not us."
I would say the same thing to anyone who thought that Ryan Adams performed for them at last Friday's WXPN Free-at-Noon concert. Cute, but the show was about Ryan, not us.
The stage was lit only from the back, so that for most of the show all the audience saw was Ryan's silhouette (in fact, the entire room was kept in the dark from the time we stumbled in until the time we stumbled out). Ryan and his band, the Cardinals, were set up not in an arc but in a semi-circle, so that they were practically playing for each other. The crowd laughed at all of Ryan's jokes, but most seemed to be told for the band's benefit. And I think Ryan spent more time talking to a stagehand while trying to get a proper can of Coke (the first wasn't cold enough, the second was in a cup and not the requested can) than he did talking to the audience.
So yeah, Ryan Adams can be a jerk. But he's a funny and charming jerk. And a seriously talented musician. Ryan puts out a lot of music - sometimes two or three albums a year - and isn't afraid to try different styles. He sometimes seems to just throw everything out there to see what sticks, but a good amount of it does indeed stick. He first hit the scene fronting Whiskeytown, which was often derided as a weak Uncle Tupelo wannabe, then went solo and put out his own alt-country work as well as some rock, pop, honky-tonk, and even some mope-rock (he does a version of Oasis's "Wonderwall" that might just be better than the original).
His upcoming disc, Easy Tiger seems to go back to his country-tinged roots, though slower, more somber, and more radio friendly (Sheryl Crow - ugh - even appears on its first single). For me, not many of the album's songs have much staying power, but the disc also strikes me as something that might grow on me - like the two years it took for me (and perhaps a handful of other fans) to appreciate his Love is Hell EPs.
While the Cardinals went for the classic rock-tour-casual look, Ryan went for a nightclub vibe with the coat, the loosened necktie, and the Ray Bans. Between his get-up, the soft lights, and the mournful piano that accompanied him, Ryan was very much reminding me of a slightly-countrified Rufus Wainwright. But he sounded great, pleased the crowd (intentionally or not) by playing some of his older stuff, and was kind enough to stick around for a few more songs after the radio feed signed off. So maybe he isn't too much of a jerk after all. Though you might not want to ask the guy who had to keep bringing him sodas (of which Ryan ended up taking a total of about three sips) what he thought of him.
This week's free show is former Mott The Hoople frontman Ian Hunter. I'm going to take a pass on that one, but I've already got my ticket for next week's free Polyphonic Spree show. How could I possibly turn down a chance to see a spectacle like that? I can't wait to see how they fit everyone on the World Cafe Live's relatively tiny stage.
By the way, that grainy photo up there is the only one I could salvage from the show, due to the darkness (and it took about an hour of photoshopping just to make that one somewhat presentable). I found pictures of the show from fellow South Jerseyian Serena - who must have been standing right next to me but still somehow managed to get plenty of great shots - on her flickr page.
NPR, as always, has achieved a stream of the concert at their website.
Update: MuchMusic is streaming Mr. Adams' new disc at their website. [Muchmusic, by the way is the Canadian equivalent to the MTV - back when MTV played music. When the (future) missus was going to college up in North Jersey (back in the early 90's) her college's cable system was about 90% Canadian channels for some reason (I would guess that it was much cheaper than regular cable). Anyway, we spent a lot of time watching MuchMusic which, in accordance with the Canadian Content rules, made sure that 35% of the videos they played were by Canadian artist and, boy howdy, you had better have loved Sarah McLachlan and Bryan Adams (and yes, I'm pretty sure Ryan Adams hates that Bryan Adams ever went into the music business - even more than most of us do). Watching Canadian cable was cool during the Winter Olympics, though. You know, I'm thinking this little addendum probably should have been it's own post.]