red lights

Rock's New Troubadour

Ryan Adams
Riviera Theatre
Chicago, IL
March 13, 2002
Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams blazes forward.

Review and Photos by Tony Bonyata

Forget about the cheesy cardboard Darth Vader and Chewbacca standups that were used for stage props. And nevermind the dingy chinese rugs and rudimentary stage lighting. Even the star attraction's slacker garb (tacky plaid jacket, really bad tie, torn and frayed bells, tattered boots and condor's nest of hair) can be forgiven, because when alt-country's latest poster boy Ryan Adams took the spotlight at The Riv last night he proved to be the very embodiment of modern American music.
Ryan Adams With songs that weighed heavy from both his latest masterpiece Gold, as well as his previous effort Heartbreaker, this one time-Whiskeytown frontman played a long, varied set that ran the gamut of American roots music, albeit with an updated spin. Scorching blues, corn pone-country, foot-stomping R&B, shit-kicking rockers and even a touch of gospel and amphetamine-fed punk all worked their way into Adams' wonderfully broad mix. Not wasting a second the glassy-eyed Adams immediately ripped the joint with a barn-burning take of "The Rescue Blues" before rampaging straight into "To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)" and the bouncy "Firecracker."
Quickly emerging as one of the most talented songwriter's of his generation, Adams unveiled a new rebellious star to his audience, as he gave a riveting performance that saw him ranting, snarling, crooning and cooing through much of his solo material. Looking like the new spokesperson for the Philip Morris Company, the boyishly good looking, but cooly unkempt Adams choked down smoke after smoke as if it was his last night on earth. While it was uncertain if the substance that he kept swigging from the back of the stage was anything over 80 proof, his silly patter in between numbers about chewing gum, chandeliers, songwriting robots and Stephen King passages, not to mention the repeated convulsing and groveling on all fours, offered answers to any doubts.
Rather than playing many of his well known, and even newer songs verbatim, Adams along with his five musical hayride cohorts took hold of the reigns, steering many of these gems down entirely different paths. The uplifting sense of hope of "New York New York," from Gold, was instead replaced with a slowed-down country tempo that, despite taking some of the grease from the song's wheels, still managed to happily roll on. On some of his slower more poignant numbers, such as "La Cienega Just Smiled" and "Harder Now That It's Over," a new energy was injected into them, thanks to Adams' piercing electric guitar and impassioned, yet matter-of-fact vocal delivery.
A few of the highlights that managed to stand out from an evening brimming with great songs were "Shakedown on 9th Street," a Bo Diddley-stomper from Heartbreaker, as well as the ballsy, gospel-infused gut-buster "Touch, Feel and Lose" and a proud, loud, cocksure version of The Stones' "Brown Sugar," where Adams ditched his guitar and courted the infatuated crowd like a peacock in heat. Near the end of his lengthy six-song encore, which was dominated by gentler acoustic numbers such as "My Winding Wheel" and Whiskeytown's "Jacksonville Skyline," Adams and his band horse-whipped the audience with a blindingly fierce, and short, punk number (a la Ramones) before unveiling the new and somewhat quirky rocker, "Vampire," which featured a hypnotic, soul-selling slide guitar. In a 'hope-I-die-before-I-get-old' rampage Adams abruptly finished off his show by chucking his guitar and mic stand across the stage, giving more meaning to the line "I just wanna burn up hard and bright," which he sang earlier that night.
Not unlike Dylan or even Springsteen early in their careers, this scruffy, young North Carolina troubadour, both on stage and off, is helping to define a new chapter in American rock 'n' roll. And it's about damn time.

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