January 22, 2021
By: Bernard Zuel
For better and for worse, Ryan Adams is about as immersed as you can be in the myths and traditions of rock&roll. He doesn't just celebrate it; he elevates it to a Great Truth.
There are the tousled hair and cigarette wedged in the neck of his guitar; a band, the Sweetheart Revolution, who look and sound like a tough bar outfit with as much disdain for subtlety as they would have for a shandy; volume pitched at maximum; niceties such as not farting about onstage between songs ignored; and the view that the music should stop only when the last band member falls over.
It could all be merely enjoyable artifice (if you have the stamina for a three-hour show that reluctantly ended at 1 am) if not for the small matter of songs that at first seem like a mail-order catalogue of great moments in rock, yet doggedly refuse to be cowed by the comparisons and finally stand as equals. More than once this night I thought: could this be what it was like to see Bruce Springsteen in a Jersey bar in 1974?
Mind you, Adams and band can test your resolve even before you notice the witching hour has passed, such as with the force and volume that thrust the opening song, Somehow, Someday, not so much in your face as through it and threatened to overwhelm both the white-boy soul of Touch, Feel and Lose and the James Taylor-esque When the Stars Go Blue.
The occasional hamfisted approach of the Sweetheart Revolution on the songs from the recent album Gold dogged the first hour but when, with typical bravado, Adams gave us two versions of his own New York, New York;one as an acoustic duo that was all Bleecker Street folk bar 1966; the other, a full band effort that was like the E Street Band in overdrive; the night shifted up two gears. Cockily, Adams then launched into a covers set that joyously ranged from Brown Sugar to Hank Williams and fellow great white hopes of rock & roll, the White Stripes, before closing with his take on the early 70's Rolling Stones, Tina Toledo's Street Walkin'Blues, with added Ted Nugent ballsiness.
It was two hours in by now but the best was yet to come. Adams returned solo to deliver some of the aching songs of love gone wrong from his first solo album, Heartbreaker. Beautiful, bruised and stamped with mid-to-late 60's Dylan, songs such as Don't Ask for the Water and My Winding Wheel showed how his voice was capable of delicacy as well as force. The band, too, showed restraint, allowing the Gram Parsons-drenched Oh My Sweet Carolina (and the segue into Parsons' Sin City) to waft and settle into our pores.
There is no Great Truth of rock, of course, except maybe this: the flaws matter little if you believe in it, and by the end of this sometimes shambolic, sometimes sublime show you knew he believed. And so did you.