Published Dec 11, 2011Since going solo, Ryan Adams has been accused of many things -- a lack of quality control, erratic live performances and general assholishness. But the Jacksonville, NC musician has written more great songs and played more good shows than bad ones. As for his famed temperamental nature, recent interviews and live performances suggest he's finally ready to bury that part of his life for good.
Tourmate Jessica Lea Mayfield wandered on stage and delivered a demure "hey" before working through a handful of tracks with her acoustic guitar. On Mayfield's records, a band usually backs the songwriter, bringing her country-soul tunes to life. But on their own, they become somewhat indistinguishable; coupled with a frustrating clicking sound that plagued the venue's PA system throughout the night, the odds seemed stacked against the Ohio native. Still, Mayfield has a haunting voice, which saved the performance from being a complete washout.
After a long delay due to the buggy soundsystem -- the headliner assured us it was not his fault "for once" -- Adams took the sparse stage wearing a black Bathory tee (further evidence that last year's Orion wasn't meant as an ironic joke) and opened the night with "Oh My Sweet Carolina," from his solo debut Heartbreaker, then delivered the title track from new album Ashes & Fire. Like that new, intimate record, which served as a much-needed reminder of why we all fell in love with Adams music in the first place, the night remained a quiet, solo-acoustic affair, with Adams cherry-picking tracks from throughout his long career, including a performance of Whiskeytown's "16 Days."
With two acoustic guitars, a piano and several mics as his only company on stage, Adams was extremely chatty, engaging the audience and weaving funny, longwinded non-sequiturs between each song. He even wrote one on the spot about how much Dracula likes to cook. Despite some ass-hat heckling from balcony, Adams remained in a light-hearted mood throughout the night, and more importantly self-deprecating, frequently mocking his own image and even making up a song about his Motörhead sweater (it's not a T-shirt) in which he jokingly referred to himself as the "Glenn Danzig of alt-country."
Beyond the between-song hijinks, Adams also delivered a stellar set of tunes, showcasing both the power and fragility of his voice and songs. Along with highlights from Ashes & Fire ("Dirty Rain," "Lucky Now") the audience was treated to turns at "Desire," "Dear Chicago" and a beautiful piano-led version of "New York, New York." He also further distanced his solo material from the work he did with the Cardinals by mostly ignoring their catalogue.
Adams finished his set with favourite "Come Pick Me Up" then returned for a three-song encore that began with a cover of Ratt's "Round and Round," describing the hair-metal anthem as "what Dracula's ringtone would be if he had a cellphone." Finally ending the two-hour set with "Why Do They Leave?" Adams slayed the public perception of himself as a temperamental jerk while refocusing everyone on his brilliant music.