Adams lightens up and aces this test
By Robert Hilburn , Times Staff Writer
Going into Ryan Adams' concert Wednesday at the Wiltern, you didn't know
whether to give him a review or a report card.
Or didn't you hear about the wonder boy's recent Nashville performance
where he reportedly got so upset when a heckler requested a Bryan
Adams song, "Summer of '69," that he refused to play another
note until the offender had left the auditorium.
You can appreciate how irritating it must be to continually run into
jokes about the name similarity, but still it sounded as if Ryan needs
There were also signs of eccentric, if not downright bratty behavior in
May when Adams, in his rock mode, opened for Alanis Morissette at the
Universal Amphitheatre and played the entire set in darkness.
The danger in all this is that an artist can start taking himself and
his celebrityhood more seriously than his music. It wasn't reassuring
when Adams joined Courtney Love's recent 24-hour egothon on MTV2.
So it felt like a real test Wednesday -- not just of Adams' music, but
of his attitude and work habits.
The music: Things started well as Adams, in a suit
rather than his usual wrinkled shirt and jeans, sat in a chair and sang
"Oh My Sweet Carolina." The enchanting song speaks about
wanderlust and longing with the soulful conviction of Gram Parsons' most
For all his acclaim as a writer, Adams, whose melodic tunes range freely
among rich rock, pop and country influences, is also a singer with an
uncommonly vulnerable edge. He expresses dreams, both shattered and
realized, with such personal, unfiltered emotion that the music carries
a nervous undercurrent of voyeurism.
Backed on various songs by a cellist, pianist and guitarist, Adams moved
between guitar and piano during the 90-minute set. The only constant
seemed to be the trail of cigarette smoke that followed him around the
way dust trails Pigpen in "Peanuts."
Totally focused, he put the same depth of feeling into other songs,
whether it was the wounded, sarcastic "Come Pick Me Up," the
more comforting "La Cienega Just Smiled" or the gently
alluring "You Will Always Be the Same." It was the most
satisfying overview of Adams' music that he's given us live.
The attitude: Adams demonstrated warmth by filling in
on guitar or piano on several songs by the opening act, the promising
sister duo Tegan and Sara. He also showed good humor by pretending he
was going to read a story from a book. The audience roared when he
instead recited the opening lyric of the Bryan Adams song: "I
bought my first six-string ... in the summer of '69." It felt like
a lighthearted way of apologizing for his Nashville behavior.
The work habits: To offset the serious, sometimes
solemn mood of his music, Adams, whose boyish good looks add to the
wonder and innocence of his music, also threw in some light, engaging
features late in the set.
He played guitar and sang along with a recording of Madonna's "Like
a Virgin" and then sat down at the piano for a dirge-like rendition
of the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" that accented the lustful
vision of the song. Both were inviting, good-natured treats from an
artist who earned the right to have some fun on a night when he showed
the value of putting his faith totally in his music.
Review or report card? Either way, it was straight A's.
Adams gets down to business
The singer-songwriter downplays his colorful reputation and cuts to the
of his music in a captivating show. By BEN WENER
The Orange County Register
This is the furthest thing from a revelation, but to understand the fresh
that came Wednesday night at the Wiltern Theatre, it bears repeating:
are more sides to Ryan Adams than there are, well, maybe not songs in his
mineshaft-deep catalog, but certainly as many as the number of unreleased
albums in his vaults.
That's a figure that seems to triple every time he sneezes, because the
celebrated North Carolina tunesmith tends to commit even his laziest
to tape - and if he's got close to a dozen ready to roll, he'll dash off a
completed disc over a weekend.
He's such a compulsive studio rat, in fact, that his latest release, the
aptly titled "Demolition," had to be whittled from more than 60
tracks cut at
five separate sessions. Yet much like Beck's "Mutations," it's a
realized work that nonetheless shouldn't be considered the
follow-up to a mainstream breakthrough, in this case last year's adored
Bet he's wrapped that next album up, actually. Calling this guy prolific
kind of like saying it's taking Axl Rose just a little longer than he
to get that next Guns N' Roses album done.
But though Adams has rapidly risen out of alt-country's stifling
(where he was the wunderkind in the critically heralded, commercially
band Whiskeytown) to become one of the most sought-after singer-
of his day, his colorful reputation precedes him, often overshadowing the
of his music.
Read an interview and you get the picture. He's a cocky one, that's for
Bratty, conceited, self-absorbed? Yes, probably and seems so. Funny and
charming, though he doesn't suffer fools well. Opinionated and outspoken,
with an attractive devil- may-care personality. Prone to drinkin' and
druggin'. Mercurial to a fault.
This is how the crowd who learned about the nearly 28- year-old Adams from
airings of "New York, New York" on VH1 know him. Those who have
concerts know better.
He has just as many sides there, too, and given that he's a shy, slow
most nights, by the time he concludes he's liable to have radically leapt
either end of the Americana spectrum, from gentle acoustic folk to ripping
Wednesday night at a packed Wiltern, however, something was different.
It was the same guy baring the same insecurities, but the crankiness he's
known for was absent. Ultimately he loosened up enough to crack wise about
routinely being confused with that schmo who sang "Summer of
than fly off the handle as he did only last week at a gig in Nashville.
by night's end, he was so comfortable he got plain goofy during his
spinning a vinyl copy of Madonna's "Like a Virgin," then playing
along as if
just figuring out its simple structure.
(That was just a quirky aside; the absurd but fantastic cover that
it - the Stones' "Brown Sugar," transposed to minor chords on
delivered with the plaintive seriousness of "Angie" - proved he
up for joking much.)
But more than anything, this mature and meditative performance was the one
damn his randy persona. Pitching a mood not unlike what Neil Young
when he performs (mostly) alone - balancing intensity with nonchalance -
Adams eradicated any doubts about his unpredictable talent. Hiding in
shadows, unveiling one romantically ravaged beauty after another, with the
delicate care of a painter applying final strokes to his masterpiece, he
finally appeared as the neo-traditionalist master his devotees insisted he
was from the start.
The riveting 90-minute set almost seemed designed to prove that point, as
Adams leaned lightly on "Demolition" material in favor of a
of his career, scaling back earlier snapshots to suit the starkness.
On record, what can spoil some of those gems is immaculate production; it
undercuts the wide range of unkempt emotions his sweet, boyish voice can
convey, leaving even heartbreaking moments a bit too polished. Here,
now and then by bearded friend Chief (just Chief) on guitar and a pair of
Londoners on cello and violin and backing vocals reminiscent of Emmylou
Harris, Adams cut his odes to their cores, revealing both the hopes and
dreams and self-doubting aches and pains that dross can cover.
The pining of "Sylvia Plath," for starters, was utterly
merely clever to perfectly bittersweet, Adams tapping it out on piano with
weary grin, his demeanor caught between sullen barfly and a chain-smoking
Noel Coward. "My Winding Wheel" and "Call Me on Your Way
gorgeously tender the way Young's "Harvest Moon" can be, played
counterpart to that number, rooting their affairs of the heart in everyday
"The Fools We Are as Men" became a ruminative hymn. "To Be
Young (is to be
sad, is to be high)" became an electrifying, pigeon-toed rave-up that
have made Jack White beam. "When the Stars Go Blue" was taken
back from the
Corrs with ease. "La Cienega Just Smiled" finally struck me as
piece of lyricism it is.
It was a remarkable makeover, but what prompted it is hard to say. Can't
"Demolition," which is more band- heavy than quietly solo, and
moments weren't approached this night. Given how fast Adams switches
it would be hard to believe this show is any indication of where his head
at, professionally or personally. No doubt he soon will return to rocking,
and ensuing rock-star antics.
But at least this sterling performance suggested he can amount to more
drummed-up media attention. He's clearly classic-bound.