Live Review: Ryan Adams, Paramount Theater, Seattle 1/26/08

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review by Jim Beckmann
photos by Ron Henry

It seems like everyone has been watching Ryan Adams lately with a morbid anticipation, expecting that at some point during his rigorous tour schedule he’ll break down, melt down, or just go batshit insane — and if it were going to happen, many thought it would likely occur during the recent leg of the Easy Tiger tour (or is it the Follow the Lights EP tour?) for which he’s playing 10 out of 15 days (oh, wait, another was added for tonight!). Yes, the man is beyond prolific and surely that, in and of itself, would be cause for anyone to eventually come to a complete halt. But there’s also his past history of onstage tantrums, walkoffs, and arguments with the audience — and of course his admitted drug use. Last Saturday at the beautiful Paramount Theater in Seattle, Ryan Adams did not meet the speculation of some and self-implode. In fact, he’d rarely seemed more in tune and in place as an artist.

Before the show in the band room, it was evident from the already filled crowd, who snapped pictures of each other in the aisles and in front of the silhouetted cacti on the twilight-lit stage, that this was a long-awaited experience. For me it was the first time finally seeing Adams, and not for my lack of trying — his previous performance from last year was called off after I had acquired tickets. One of my co-workers echoed the same sentiments so many others had, saying she was worried she would never get a chance to see him live (read: alive). But Adams, now nearly two years sober, not only began his set right on time (lights dimmed at exactly 8PM by my mark), but was also wandering outside the venue previous to the show with video camera in hand, filming subjects for the next of his videos, which he posts, as prolifically as he creates music, under the guise Horion74.

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The early start only served to give Ryan Adams and The Cardinals much more time to perform. “We’re going until curfew,” he said after one of his characteristic diversions, both assuring and worrying the crowd, who perhaps wondered how long they could sit until their bladders exploded (or maybe that was just me). At well over two hours total time, the two sets, with no encore, spanned a range of material, from the very new to classics from Heartbreaker. Throughout, Adams tried to share the (virtual) spotlight on stage by constantly referring to the band as “The Cardinals” — pointedly dropping the presumably label-insisted “Ryan Adams &” prefix — and including a solo song in the setlist from the most well known Cardinal, Neal Casal, and revealing that the next album will be in different voices and written by different members.

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While a significant part of his stage banter pertained to his sobriety, Adams’ performance was far from unreasonably restrained, and the combination of his leopard print platform shoes, inner-ear disorder, and current illness kept him off-balance and off-script — so much so, in fact, that a few on the Ryan Adams Archive message boards disbelieved his sobriety, to which Adams himself, under the moniker “WolfHunter,” slapped down such slander, citing his condition and claiming, “i was born a wild soul,” before adding a warning to the haters, “do not do MY accounting for me dude. i will melt you.” No, sobriety hasn’t changed the extent to which Ryan Adams puts himself out there. As demonstrated on stage, behind the camera, and on the forum, he certainly has not lost that spark big bang of creativity.

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But it wasn’t the naysayers whose faces were melted that night. The crowd at the Paramount was treated to an opening 15 minutes of psychedelic and sometimes sludge drenched versions of “Bartering Lines” and “Peaceful Valley,” which eventually led into the smoother sounds of “Mockingbird” and “Rescue Blues.” Up to that point, Adams had barely spoken, and I was worried that this might be a repeat of one of his early Seattle appearances, which I’m glad to have opted out of, when he barely spoke to the audience at all. But no — he was just warming up! After the first six songs, he launched into commentary on the spiffiness of the crowd, his own fevered state, and mentioned how he might be in need of some therapy. Just after the next song, he marveled at the fulfillment of his random request for Squirt (thanks to Robbie, the guitar tech), made a derogatory slam on the “creepy” Mindfreak guy, and then responded to a potential retribution, “What’s he going to do, make me disappear? I tried for ten years to make myself disappear. Trust me, if what I was paying for couldn’t do it, he can’t.” Other banter, with the band and with the audience, filled both sets, and Adams only half apologized during a particularly lengthy tangent that included speculation of Dean Martin’s possible alcohol-induced inabilities, saying, “I like sharing with you. I think it humanizes the concert experience” before launching back into a crowd favorite, “Oh My Sweet Carolina.”

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Particular standouts include his arguably better than the original “Wonderwall” (yes, I said it!), a slower and more plaintive version of Easy Tiger‘s “Halloweenhead,” and the Alice in Chains cover, “Down In A Hole.” Afterwards, in the lobby, friends and strangers compared notes or just walked out stunned after the sonic bliss of show closer “Easy Plateau.” New fans were formed, like the couple beside me, who had purchased tickets on a whim, not ever having actually heard a single Ryan Adams song, and who were already considering their first album purchases. The rest of us breathed a sigh of relief — not because we necessarily expected him to freak out or implode, but rather because we witnessed a man who had worn a storm and who seemed — while not exactly healthier — somehow stronger than before. It was a truly transformative experience.

Here’s the video, shot with full audience participation:

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