Following the controversial Minneapolis show on September 27th, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this show. In fact, there were rumors that this show was canceled even on the day of the show. I verified that he’d played the following two nights in Madison and Chicago and that he’d been playing encores for those shows. This was the first time I’ve seen Ryan Adams live and the first time at the IMU Main Room.
The IMU Main Room venue is like a big ballroom from the 1920’s. According to the IMU site the “Main Lounge” was in use in 1927. Big arched ceilings with a sizable stage. A very nice place to see a show like this. The seating was general admission and the ushers made sure every seat was occupied. I don’t think the show sold out, but it was very full by the time the show started. Before the band took the stage a guy in a vintage Army-style helmet came out and read from a piece of paper that the band would start at quarter after the hour, and stated, “The first rule is there are no rules,” and then explained that the stage would be very dark and that the band plans a varied setlist from night to night and shouting song titles out would be a way to get that song removed from the set. I saw the results of this later when a lady shouted out “Stars Go Blue!” and Ryan asked if there were any other songs we didn’t want to hear! It sounded like he was joking, and probably the set didn’t include that song anyway.
I was pretty surprised at how vocal the audience was considering the announcement by the Army Helmet guy and the fact that people were pretty much sequestered to their general seats. At one point a guy ran up from the back of the auditorium to the front of the stage with his cellphone camera and took pictures at which point security came up and took him back– presumably to his seat.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the performance. The performance was partially astounding music and partially Ryan providing loose, disarming, and often funny non-sequiturs. He arrived on stage wearing an “I (heart) I.C.” where the heart was replaced with a pot leaf. He frequently mentioned that he wanted a cigarette– and that he had just quit smoking that day. He seemed concerned that he might not be able to play if he wasn’t smoking! At one point he confessed that he loved puppies and wanted to smother himself in them. He also told a funny story about visiting the namesake location in the Don Henley song “Sunset Grill” and how it was a fly-infested dump and how he was confused about how Henley could have drawn inspiration from it. He likened it to writing a song about Denny’s at which point he improvised a song about Denny’s. Pretty funny!
The music performance was an intense passionate experience. I was floored by the Cardinals– I didn’t expect them to be the fit they were. They played with a polish that can only come from the extensive touring that they do. Their vocal harmonies blend perfectly with Ryan’s. I was particularly stunned by the harmonies in “Dear John.”
The setlist– as expected– had quite a few tracks from Easy Tiger, but also a big selection from Cold Roses. I really have started to love “Let It Ride.” The next night I heard it in the movie “Lucky You” with Drew Barrymore which was a cool coincidence.
The encore was my favorite part of the show. The band was in really good form and Ryan was in good spirits even without cigarettes and they delivered an extended jam on Rip Off, Easy Plateau and Bartering LInes.
Since the show I’ve spent more time with Ryan’s catalog. I probably should have done that before the show to prepare for it, but I feel that having heard the live show I have a better understanding of the songs. I think that the Cardinals as a backing band really come in to their own in the live setting– much more than I was giving them credit for listening to the studio releases with them. Ryan is a perfectionist and I think somewhat misunderstood by the press. Some of the comments that are quoted out of context make him sound more “unstable” than he really is. He wants to deliver the best show he can, and that requires sticking to setlists and having PA’s that function. I look forward to his next releases and the opportunity to see them live again.
Setlist (from Answeringbell.com)
Dear John (Ryan on Hammond)
The Rescue Blues
I Taught Myself How To Grow Old
Shakedown On 9th Street
Please Do Not Let Me Go
Nightbirds (Ryan on Hammond)
The Sun Also Sets
Let It Ride
Easy Plateau >
Update (6/20/11) You can listen to a matrix recording of the show at archive.org! CLICK HERE.