By David Marriott - Rocks In Your Head - 05/01/2005

Ryan Adams’ new double album, Cold Roses, much in keeping with the rest of his recent studio output, is uneven with brief flirtations with brilliance. This record only furthers my belief that Adams is incapable of controlling the double-edged sword that is his bottomless repository of material. In addition to this double album, there are two more LPs slated for release this year. It seems no one has told Adams that the reason it worked so well for early Dylan is because all of his songs were worth recording. During his live show, however, this complex manifested itself with Adams sharing and performing as much material as possible before Spectrum would have to close for the evening.

The three-hour-plus show -- two sets with a ten-minute intermission -- opened with Adams, hidden under his patented mop of unwashed hair, and his new backing band The Cardinals taking the stage with no greeting. They quickly jumped into five country-tinged songs from the new record. The Cardinals played an accomplished brand of alt-country, which wasn’t surprising as they share members with Austin’s Asleep At The Wheel. Adams himself was sloppy but his energy, as expected, was contagious. Having kept mostly silent outside of the customary thank you here and there, Adams’ first audience address was in the form of a threat to a spectator who, apparently having escaped an elementary school outing to St-Catherine East earlier that day, decided that it would be funny to cap off his heckling of the performers with a Bryan Adams joke. The mood was now decidedly uneasy. Things lightened up later with a spirited performance of “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” off 2001’s Heartbreaker. It showcased an artist who has clearly been playing a song live so long that he’s decided to have some fun with it. The set ended with some of the live audience banter for which Adams’ shows are famous (favorite example: while discussing an old bandmate’s break-up, he proclaimed it to be “so much drama, man. Matlock times twenty. Fuckin’ Rocklock”).

The second set began with Adams alone on stage, performing several numbers with only piano and half a pack of smokes for company. It perfectly captured a sense of intimacy that the previous set only hinted at. New songs were mixed with old stand-bys (“Sylvia Plath”), ending with an audience-requested piano version of the Rolling Stones’ staple “Brown Sugar”, which was oddly engaging once he found the right keys (this took about four minutes of trial and error). The solo portion of the show was extended to an acoustic guitar stretch in which favorites ranging from “Winding Wheel” to the famed cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” were performed with, as was the custom of the evening, a subtle grace hidden beneath a seemingly aloof exterior. The show closed with the Cardinals returning to the stage to assist Adams’ in a fifteen-minute jammy version of “Magnolia Mountain”, the first track off Cold Roses. Following this, they immediately exited the stage with a simple goodnight and no encore. Nobody really needed one after three hours of Ryan Adams, after years of media hysterics and a string of varyingly successful LPs that remind an audience why he is still a distinct and interesting musician.

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