The night had all the particulars to become a memorable one: Two guitars, an upright piano, a harmonica, an oft-dubbed prolific singer/songwriter and a sold-out Cadillac Palace Theatre.
The only thing missing was a good story.
After a two-year hiatus from touring, Ryan Adams is out hitting the road promoting Ashes & Fire, a focused, low-key mix of songs with a twist of soul. Often framed by critics as Heartbreaker II, referencing the songwriter’s 2000 debut filled with honest rockers and folk anthems, this album lacks the flair and intensity of its so-called predecessor.
Sunday night, it was Adams on stage, stripped down and laid back with no lighting effects, no band, no safety net and, to the observant ear, no real plan.
This was a grab bag of Adams, as a series of tunes Adams seemed to pick specifically at random from a large black binder; “a best of show,” longtime fans will tell you.
For the opening series “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “If I Am a Stranger” and his latest album’s title track, Adams stayed seated center stage, building attention. Seemingly on whims, Adams shifted from sitting to standing with a guitar at stage left to piano at stage right to humorous nerdy diatribe. Each move brought an awkward silence and series of distracting fumbles with instruments and gear.
A patient crowd sat dazed for a gripping piano rendition of “My Blue Manhattan,” what some believe to be a tale of lost love after the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Tingles rippled through the audience with every utterance of, “Ain’t that sweet little girl?”
Of course, this was still Adams, so the night was not without comical antics. He joked about sorceresses, the video game Skyrim and Dungeons and Dragons artwork, as well as Chicago-style pizza.
“I didn’t know Sylvia Plath,” he said, making himself comfortable pianoside before singing the song of the same name. “We were just in the same homeroom,” he quipped.
The night did not go without ear-delighting highlights. “Let It Ride” off Cold Roses and “Dear Chicago” from Demolition, teased the crowd. Pleasers from 2001‘s Gold, “Firecracker” and a black-and-white key version of “New York, New York” brought delight, while “Round and Round” from 1980s hair metal outfit Ratt brought an eyebrow-raising surprise.
In setting up “Carolina Rain,” a song from a dead man’s point of view, Adams said, “Apparently I was not so well adjusted when I wrote some of these,” referring to a time before his recent born-again sobriety.
If the evening had a climax, it would have been “Come Pick Me Up,” the crowd-relieving finale
Five years prior, this often-cited prolific songwriter easily tamed a three-night stand at New York’s Town Hall with a trilogy of unique stories. But tonight Adams left the Sunday night crowd without the romance of foreshadowing, tension, pacing or plot. It had some folks looking for the dénouement, or the door, too early.
Tell us something Ryan. Tell us a story.
Set List – Ryan Adams at Cadillac Palace Theatre:
“Oh My Sweet Carolina”
“Ashes & Fire”
“If I Am a Stranger”
“My Winding Wheel”
“My Blue Manhattan”
“Let It Ride”
“Chains of Love”
“16 Days” (Whiskeytown)
“New York, New York”
“Crossed Out Name”
“Please Do Not Let Me Go”
“Lady with the Phone Song”
“Round and Round” (Ratt)
“Thank you for coming song”
“Come Pick Me Up”
Encore: “Nutshell” (Alice in Chains)