The Cardinals featuring Ryan Adams, Paramount Theater, Austin, TX 10/13
Ryan Adams forever fuels his mythology with cosmic ambition. That legacy mushrooms into the hereafter tonight. “Where are they going to bury me?” Adams howls midway through the Cardinals’ 135-minute set. Answer: “Outer space!” His earthly objective remains equally determined. Adams knees locked, eyes lucid focuses with the measured intensity of a man defending a thousand accusations.
Of course, he may be. After all, the North Carolina native seeks redemption for so many too-high performances past. Not to mention his wildly scattershot catalog. “If he limited himself to an album every, say, 18 months, [Adams] might be the greatest alt-country act of all time,” one local music scribe wrote in a preview of this sold-out show. Evidence is overwhelming: Adams’ never ending new-millennium collection ranges from bloated to brilliant.
KGSR’s Jody Denberg clearly to the songwriter’s consternation said as much during a radio interview this afternoon. “People say I’m prolific like it’s a dirty word,” Adams shot back defiantly. “I’m a musician: I play my guitar and come up with new tunes. The idea is to continue the thought process the way records used to be. It’s an honor to be a musician.”
Sure is. Now, after years of angst and abuse, Adams guitar licks scorching, vocals clear and soaring finally appears ready to accept that nobility. Witnessing such a creative peak is stunning: The Cardinals are his musical soul mates, sobriety his salvation. By stepping into the band’s horseshoe formation instead of standing front stage, Adams exhibits a previously well-hidden humility.
All of which fortifies at times, reinvents, even his art. Singer-songwriter snapshots (most remarkably, “Bartering Lines” and “Peaceful Valley”) transform into thick, cinematic jams. “Fix It,” the first single from the forthcoming Cardinology, cuts a gloriously deep groove into classic rock. Excepting a hilarious bit tracing Aerosmith’s evolution from narcotics to barbecue sauce, stage banter is commendably absent.
In other words, everything works. Even the expected cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” frankly limp and listless, succeeds on heart. The band’s incomparable anticipation practically lifts “Goodnight, Rose” from the stage. But these followers predominantly college-aged couples who likely wouldn’t know Whiskeytown from water holler loudest and most often for doses of Cold Roses. The Cardinals oblige. Building on the effortlessly buoyant “Let It Ride,” circular jams “Easy Plateau” and the title track earn raucous ovations.
The Cardinals achieve transcendence, though, interpreting two highlights from Adams’ solo debut Heartbreaker. Their blistering assault on “9th Street Shakedown” pinches growl from Keith Richards, while Randy Newman’s conflicted grin sweeps gloriously across “Come Pick Me Up.” Unforgettable. Nearly as breathtaking, Adams deftly reclaims “When the Stars Go Blue” (memorably covered by Bono, not so much Tim McGraw) and turns “Desire” into more of a proclamation of need than want, its fade a portrait of vulnerability.
“I love you, Ryan,” an enthusiastic man down front shouts. “Oh,” Adams replies, immediately at the ready. “I’m sorry.”