Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Town Hall, New York NY 12/4-6
“You look taller in those boots Mr. Adams.” Two thousand and six was a busy year for Ryan Adams. A year that took him two Europe twice, the greater south and middle America once, and the confines of a recording studiowell I don’t believe that he leaves the studio. Ryan Adams said that he “likes to be recording when he is not recording.” A quote that came after alt-country songwriter posted eleven (yup eleven) new albums on his website. Though the music itself was once again something people didn’t expect from the now thirty-something heartbreaker (unless you did go out to the record store and pick up a copy of The Finger’s first album We Are Fuck You) it shows that Adams still has no intentions of slowing down. If the record company doesn’t want release more records just a year after Adams put out three then he will on his website under the names The Shit, Werewolf, and DJ Reggie a compilation of mock songs not to mention that the rest of his extensive catalog is also up and streaming for free.
The city that Adams always seemed to miss was the same city that he resides in. Other than an under the cover show at New York’s Bowery Ballroom in June (billed under the name Cold Roses Inc.), an Arthur Lee Benefit at the Beacon Theater, and an appearance at the Dylan Tribute in Avery Fisher Hall Adams has been reluctant to play a high profile full length gig in New York. All was changed in early November when Adams announced a three-night stand at New York’s elegant Town Hall. Chatter on the boards is an understatement as Adams posted an intro to his website that featured a Batman light shining above the New York Skyline with the Cardinals rose aglow. On the side of a building was written a promise of no repeats throughout the three nights.
Town Hall was not prepared for a rock show. This was apparent when they were out of beer before Adams even took the stage. Though when he did take the stage I forgot about not having a beer (couldn’t bring it to my seat anyway!) as Adams propelled the Cardinals into the fitting opener “Magnolia Mountain.” The show started with electricity, energy, and excitement that would last throughout the twenty-one-song show and the only show without a short break at ten o’clock (_a break during a two hour set c’mon Ry?_). Moving out of “Magnolia Mountain” with a loud distorted though airy lighthearted jam Adams segued into “Please Don’t Let Me Go” which drifted nicely into a smooth rendition of a Cardinals bolstered “Dear Chicago.” The next number “Peaceful Valley” showcased the powerful harmonies of the Cardinals and proved to be one of the best songs he performed over the three nights. Night one was filled out with two new songs that often appeared on setlists during the Cardinals month long trek through Europe both “Tears of Gold” and “Arkham Asylum” were played with a passion that possessed Adams during the first night at Town Hall. The chorus of “Arkham Asylum” lingered through my mind long into the afternoon of the next day, “And Arkham Asylum has walls to keep us safe, Life just ain’t designed to prevent every mistake, And every lock has its key and nobody ever really sleeps, Up in Rockingham Estates, Rockingham, Rockingham Estates” (and now it is again). Rounding out the setlist were tight versions of “Cold Roses”, “Kiss Before I Go”, “Bartering Lines”, and a crowd-pleasing slow tempo version of “New York New York.” Adams even dipped into “Blue Hotel”, a song he wrote for Willie Nelson’s Songbird, an album that Adams produced this year. The show hit its stride at the end with a spiritual rendition of the Grateful Dead’s “Wharf Rat” into “Shakedown on 9th” and then a show closing raucous version of “I See Monsters.” The first night of Town Hall had Ryan Adams enjoying himself. At least it was apparent that he was happy to be there. Adams was often talking to crowd about sobriety, diet coke, the end of Friends, and the choice he made to play a venue that had seats (so the audience could sit).
The second night featured Ryan returning to the stage in a pair of black boots replacing the silver ones from the night before (same heal, same height). Adams came on stage with the same energy from the night before striding into “What Sin Replaces Love” without any hesitation. The hard rock edge that encompasses “What Sin” opened the show in angst as the extended jam showcased how tight the Cardinals have become this year. This song was also significant because it resembles the new sound that Ryan Adams and The Cardinals have been moving towards throughout 2006. A rare “Nobody Girl” and “Harder Now That Its Over” followed both selections from Adams second solo album Gold released in 2001. The first set came to a close with “Freeway to the Canyon” and “Trouble on Wheels.” “Freeway to the Canyon” brought Neal Casal to front of the stage singing lead vocals with Adams backing him up. The song is from Casals new album No Wish To Reminisce released in 2006. Highlights from the second set included a reworked version of “Firecracker” also from 2001’s Gold and another new song from The Cardinals titled “Goodnight Rose” that was welcomed with a warm reception from the crowd. The energy hit a peak when the Cardinals dropped into “Trains” a selection from Jacksonville City Lights and followed it up with “Cherry Lane” from Cold Roses, both albums from 2005. Ryan then invited the beautiful Norah Jones to come out and sing on “Dear John” a song that the two collaborated on for the Adams album Jacksonville City Lights. The duet was a very powerful rendition of a touching song that showcased the pair on vocals. After the tune Norah walked over to Ryan and instead of any sign of embrace or appreciation she received an awkward smile and a pat on the arm. The show closer was an inspirational version of the Grateful Deads “Stella Blue.”
The third night was wellshort. Instead of the appreciative musician that graced the stage the two nights prior Adams was in a bitchy mood. Opening the night with “Come Pick Me Up” a song he had claimed to retire just five months before. Adams seemed to be caught up in the mood of the tunes and against the crowd. Adams spoke about how he had forgot that he had to play that night and joked with crowd about how he forgot the setlist when someone shouted out a song. While the show itself was short and lasted just little over an hour (_with a breakc’mon Ry_) the music was completely on point and that is why it sucked he stopped playing. The first set was the only set of the three nights that only included songs from Adams solo albums. Adams prepared a beautiful version of Gold’s “When The Stars Go Blue” a song you might hear on the radio though Tim McGraw will be signing a watered down version. Adams dove into his Love Is Hell material with the title track “Love Is Hell” and “Afraid Not Scared.” The most compelling tunes of the set were both off his first solo album Heartbreaker. “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and the set closer “La Cienga Just Smiled” sounded great with the Cardinals backing him up. The second set was the most awkward. Adams came out and played a rare version of “Hallelujah” from Demolition. Rock N’ Roll’s “Wish You Were Here” followed this up. The second set seemed awkward because Adams moved his microphone far back from the crowd and next to drummer Brad Pemberton besides that he did have a wardrobe change during set break and put the back the boots on from the previous nights. The set was rounded out by great versions of “Blue Sky Blues” and “29” from 2006’s 29. Adams went back to Heartbreaker for a take on “My Winding Wheel” and brought another one of Neal Casal’s songs to the forefront “Willow Jane.” During “Willow Jane” Adams did miss a change and Casal started singing while Adams was still involved in a solo. Though some thought this was controversial it was pretty apparent that the two were laughing at the mistake at the end of the tune. The closed show abruptly after a version of “The Rescue Blues.” Adams seemed to have had enough and quickly darted back stage as the house lights went on a second after.
Over the three nights at Town Hall Ryan Adams kept his promise and didn’t repeat a song. The music all three nights was phenomenal. Is it better when he is in a good mood? Yes, but I’ll take him in a bad mood too. The Town Hall shows show what a productive year the Cardinals had in 2006. As this band continues to write new songs together and learn more and more of Adams back catalog the possibilities are endless.