For years Ryan Adams behaved like a petulant child on- and offstage. When I caught him for the first time he was helming Whiskeytown, and despite raves in various music rags, that band was still playing beer bars in places like Madison. The show was at the Club Tavern, and a distracted Adams, bad boy of the No Depression generation, may have mumbled as many as two dozen words to the audience during the band's set. His playing and singing were fine. But if it hadn't been for violinist Caitlin Cary, who actually seemed to enjoy both playing for and talking to Whiskeytown fans, Adams' disconnected performance would have chased more than a few warm bodies to the exits well before the encore.
But that was then and this is now, and the astoundingly prolific - and now reportedly drug- and alcohol-free - Adams is doing his best to maintain a serious pop-rock career. With the Cardinals, he's produced a mix of folk, rock, carefully arranged pop and jam-friendly material that's attracted everyone from graying Neil Young and Grateful Dead followers to indie kids who count the protean Adams as a significant musical role model.
And after working with various iterations of the band since 2005, he's become so comfortable with working in a group setting that he's spent the last couple years slowly erasing his name from the band's moniker during tours. Even so, when Cardinology, his third album with the band, comes out at the end of October, it will be intriguing to see how prominently his name will be featured on the CD booklet.
With a dozen or so Adams releases from which to pick and choose material (not to mention his slack-jawed experiments with hip-hop), brand-spanking-new fare from Cardinology like the aching post-love song "Fix It," the fist-pumping radio rocker "Magick" and the cyclical, vaguely psychedelic "Cobwebs" isn't likely to form the meat of the Cardinals' appearance at Overture Hall. In fact, judging from the snippets of concert footage available on YouTube and the band's website, www.ryan-adams.com, much of the evening may be spent adding ever climaxing Crazy Horse-style jams to tunes drawn from throughout his career.
Not that that's a bad thing. An excited, expressive Ryan Adams is sure to be a hundred times more engaging than the disinterested adolescent mope who played the Club Tavern all those years ago. No matter what he plays.