Ryan Adams at Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago [Concert Review]

by That Guy on December 19, 2011

At this point in my life, there’s a pretty short list of artists that I’m dying to see, but haven’t yet seen. Before Sunday night, Ryan Adams was one of those artists. He’s everything I love in a musician and more – prolific, multi-talented, poetic, expressive, emotional. And while watching him Sunday night, he added to that list – cerebral, self-deprecating, natural, and even comforting.

To get myself Kevin-Garnett-like-hyped for the show, I spent some time with his latest release, Ashes and Fire, and went back through his catalog – Heartbreaker, Gold, Jacksonville City Nights, Love is Hell, Demolition, Cold Roses, Easy Tiger, Pneumonia. Good God. I mean, I knew the guy was prolific, but when you look at the sheer volume of top-notch work he’s produced over his career, it’s downright astonishing. As KG said, “I’m so hyped right now.”

The wife and I made our way down to the amazing Cadillac Palace Theatre for the show. My dear, what a venue.

I’d heard a lot about Ryan Adams on-stage antics over the years, so nervously awaited the start of the show to see which Ryan Adams we were going to get. He hit the stage, looked out to the crowd and deadpanned, “I’m going to rock you into…some sort of state of depression.” Love it.

The stage was adorned with a piano, two acoustic guitars, a couple mics, and a chair with his leather jacket draped over it. Overall it was a very subdued set, with Ryan alternating between standing for a few songs, then sitting for a few, then playing a few on the piano. Many in the crowd seemed to be controlling their ear boners, cheering for Adams whenever he played the harmonica or finger-picked a riff. At one point a portion of the crowd started cheering a couple bars into a song, and he looked over his shoulder tongue-in-cheek as if he wondered if the applause was triggered by something other than him.

Adams held the audience in the palm of his hand for two solid hours. Most of the time you could barely hear a pin drop, and the no-alcohol/no-camera policy made for a great listening experience. I found myself totally enveloped in what Adams was doing on stage.

Standouts of the evening for me were the stripped-down piano version of “New York, New York”, and the acoustic guitar-led “Come Pick Me Up”, “Dirty Rain”, “My Winding Wheel”, “Firecracker”, and Whiskeytown’s “16 Days”. Another standout was the piano-based “Sylvia Plath”, when he quipped, “She probably listened to a lot of The Cure.” Also on display were his hilarious on-stage antics, the highlight of which was his interaction with a young lady sitting right behind the soundboard who kept turning on her phone, the reflection of the light off her face continually catching Adams’ attention until he finally called her out. At first I think the audience was unsure which way this call-out was going to go – was he going to lash out? Fortunately, he made light of the situation, made fun of her to no end, wondered aloud if she was a sorceress, and even wrote a hilarious off-the-cuff song about it at the end of the set.

The new Ryan Adams was a pleasure to watch, and it was great to see him with a new lease on life. Toward the end of the show, he said something along the lines of “This is the first show I’ve done in Chicago that’s been worth a damn”, an obvious nod to some of his past issues and a confirmation of how far he has come as a performer and person.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Brian Lambert December 20, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I saw him at Austin City Limits several years back, just after the release of “Rock and Roll”. This was when he was really going hard. He was cursing and saying lewd stuff his whole set, but once he started playing he was amazing. My mother-in-law, who was also in attendance, commented that he had the voice of an angel and the mouth of sailor.

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