Ryan Adams returned to the revered Massey Hall last night (May 9), treating his Toronto audience to a sprawling two-hour set.
This time around, the ever-prolific singer-songwriter is touring in support of his latest LP, Prisoner (and a companion album of B-sides), which despite being misleadingly labeled as a "divorce album," is largely a bombastic ode to '80s rock.
It was fitting, then, that Adams stepped out on stage sporting a Canadian tuxedo and flying V guitar, situating himself amidst stacks of retro TV screens, walls of amps, an assortment of giant cats and a backdrop of twinkling, star-like lights before leading his band through an explosive rendition of Prisoner opener "Do You Still Love Me?" to set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Other new songs triumphed throughout the show, like "Outbound Train," "Doomsday" and a particularly poignant version of Prisoner's title track (which began with Adams alone on his acoustic guitar, but eventually swelled into a full-band blast of sound). Even B-side "Juli" got a turn in the spotlight, a near-perfect Smiths impression under a haze of purple lasers.
Adams' extensive back catalogue was hardly ignored, though. In addition to the live debuts of Prisoner-era tracks, plenty of oldies were pulled out, dusted off and performed with new voracity. "Dirty Rain" was embellished with an absolutely ripping solo from Adams, while Cardinals cuts like "Magnolia Mountain," "Sweet Illusions" and "Peaceful Valley" were stretched into prolonged jams (that could have seemed a bit too drawn-out had it not been abundantly clear how much Adams was enjoying the opportunity to shred). Perhaps making up for lost time, the set eventually closed with a ferociously loud, light-speed version of "Shakedown on 9th Street."
Of course, there were also a couple detours into the depths of musical despair thanks to a haunting rendition of "Wonderwall" (accompanied only by sparse keys and electric guitar), a solo acoustic version of "My Winding Wheel" and Adams' signature finale — an unplugged encore of "Come Pick Me Up."
For the most part, though, the devotees at Massey Hall were served a blistering (if a bit meandering) rock'n'roll spectacle. It was a testament to the emotional range, sonic variation and sheer volume of Adams' now decades-spanning career and songbook, and a reminder that even the most devoted fans can still be surprised by his live show.