Ryan Adams is not an entertainer. He is not a puppet. If you break his concentration as he watches his fingers slide down the neck of his guitar or as he croons his neck back as if singing to some power above, he will pull out a blow horn and ramble about control and the 21st century. If audience members scream out requests he will calmly put down his guitar, pull out his blow horn, and tell you how to sit. Then he’ll start singing as if nothing had happened.
At least that’s how it went Tuesday night at DAR/Constitution Hall, where Adams performed with his back-up band, “The Cardinals” for two and a half hours to an almost sold-out crowd.
The concert was the second to last stop on his tour following this summer’s release of “Easy Tiger,” (Lost Highway) which was quickly followed by “Follow the Lights,” an EP released last week. “Easy Tiger” is the ninth studio album the 32-year-old has released in the last seven years.
Critics have called “Easy Tiger” one of Adams most cohesive and well-edited albums and have made connections between this breakthrough album to his newfound sobriety (Adams is famous for his drug habits, which he says he dropped a few months ago.) The concert proved Adams’ prowess as a balladeer, but it was neither “cohesive” nor “intricately arranged” as the Associated Press called “Easy Tiger” in a recent review.
Instead, the concert showed Adams at his core: an artist pulled in different directions and varying in quality from the heavenly poetic to the shaky and trailing. Adams is country, Britpop, rock n roll, jam rock, country rock, alternative, and blues- and he demonstrated this range during the concert. About a quarter of Tuesday night’s songs were off his new album.
In an interview with “Arcade Fire,” an indie-rock band, featured in a recent issue of Interview magazine, Adams remarked on what he called “tour glue type songs,” which are, he said, “the songs that, later on, people want to hear the most..It’s almost like you have to overcome them in order to evolve and redefine what’s going on. For me it’s always been like, if I don’t lose those crutches, then I won’t be able to make the thing fly later in a different way.”
Adams seemed to avoid any crutches by reinterpreting his songs. “Off Broadway,” one of the shorter and more delicate songs on “Easy Tiger” was elongated and filled with more percussion. “Halloweenhead,” also off his new CD, seemed slower and began with Adams stumbling on the piano. “Bartering lines” (Heartbreaker, 2005) sounded darker and more mournful.
Mist crept across the stage, changing colors from blue to red to green as the lighting created a larger than life shadow behind Adams, which lurked over the audience. Adams and “The Cardinals” played four songs before saying anything to the audience. It seemed as if Adams was creating a wall between what was happening on and off stage, and the venue with its bolted, stars and stripe fabric chairs added to the disconnection. As a result, the audience became rowdy. There was a tug ‘o war between some fans yelling at others to shut up and those such as one man who screamed out Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69.” At a recent concert, Adams walked off the stage after someone requested that song. Adams did not walk off stage or confront the man on Tuesday.
Adams split the concert into two acts, abruptly leaving the stage and returning just as abruptly with many still in the lobby standing in line by the bar. The first act seemed semi-controlled, but the second swayed between deep melodies, hard rock, and riffing jam sessions that seemed to fray a part as bright lights swirled around blinding the audience.
But despite the oddities, Adams demonstrated his extreme singer-songwriter capabilities. He even evoked Bob Dylan as he played the harmonica during “Why do they leave” (Heartbreaker). Sometimes he was so into his music that it seemed like he wanted to let it out of his whole body, not just his mouth and fingers. He would awkwardly kick a leg back, bow over his guitar as he played, or scrunch his shoulders trying to push as much song out as possible.
When the show ended, the audience gave a standing ovation awaiting an encore. After more than five minutes, the band casually returned from the wings and broke out into “Easy Plateau,” a hit off of 2005’s Cold Roses, and the audience roared.
This is the world of Ryan Adams, where there is no reason, no prediction, the stage fills with smoke, and if you don’t get it, too bad.