Ryan Adams & the Cardinals
Germantown Performing Arts Centre
July 12, 2007
As people stepped out of a dreary, drizzling Memphis night and into Germantown Performing Arts Centre – not your usual venue for a big-time concert in Memphis – they didn’t know what to expect. Generally, GPAC houses performances of a more artsy nature – symphonies, ballet, and the like.
Perhaps that’s the reason that Ryan Adams chose to perform his show there as a seated, acoustic set, straight out of VH1 Storytellers minus the story-telling. Barely a peep was heard from the audience during the show…you could hear a pin drop – it sounds cliche, but that’s how it went down.
For once, people just shut up and listened. It was a show of respect not often seen at concerts, but Adams commands it. And for a night in Memphis, he tossed his rock-star mentality to the side and showed how great his music can be when stripped down to the essentials – just wood, strings, and Adams’ stellar voice.
Touring in support of his new disc, Easy Tiger, Adams and the Cardinals came on stage at a little past 8:30, and the audience was attentive from the opening notes of "Please Do Not Let Me Go." There was a great vibe amidst the dimly-lit, sold out room, – the stage adorned with a bunch of Chinese lanterns of different sizes.
Seated for the entire show save the set-closing "Goodnight Hollywood Blvd." (YouTube video courtesy of random audience member), Adams played guitar for half the songs, and left the playing to the Cardinals for the rest.
Things started off with the lazily-paced "Please Do Not Let Me Go," Adams’ voice strong right from the start. The Cardinals provided beautiful vocal and musical accompaniment the whole night, and the harmonizing during "Dear John" was nothing short of spell-binding given the silence of the crowd and the finely-tuned acoustics of the room.
One of the few times the crowd spoke up was during "Let It Ride," showing their approval when Adams reached the line "Tennessee’s a brother to my sister Carolina, where they’re gonna bury me?"
Touring behind a new release will always bring out the fresh songs, and they were there a plenty. "The Sun Also Sets" fit right in with the mood of the evening, and one of the best jams of the night came during the Easy Tiger‘s opening track.
"Goodnight Rose" is one of the faster-paced tracks on the disc (if you can call it faster-paced) and it’s ripe for development as it matures – as it stands, it’s been around since last fall. Acoustic instrumentation leaves less for the musicians to hide behind, what with the lack of sustain, distortion, and electronic enhancements. It’s a lot harder to pull off great solos when you have less time to think and you can’t hold notes as with an electric guitar. However, the Cardinals manage to squeeze the most out of their tools, and Adams and guitarist Neal Casal played a great synchronous solo to close the song.
Adams belted out a haunting version of 29‘s "Night Birds" that was just wrought with raw emotion and featured some great piano work from Jamie Candiloro, and "Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." was nothing short of stellar. Stripped down to nearly nothing, save Brad Pemberton’s floor tom and some acoustic guitar, it was simple elegance and music at its most pure.
"Peaceful Valley" was perhaps the song that typified the evening. During the chorus, as Adams poured out his heart, he had the undivided attention of the room, the audience hanging on each and every word. There was some great interplay between the guitarists, and Adams even changed up some of the lyrics in light of his recent trip to rehab, singing "up there in heaven with a fucking Diet Sprite" instead of "with a bottle of wine."
While "Peaceful Valley" may have been the most representative song of the night, "Magnolia Mountain" was the most inspired. Again, the crowd reacted with a small cheer at the mention of "Tennessee honey," and the meshing of Casal, Adams, and Jon Graboff’s pedal steel was top-notch as they stuck in a great jam between the second and third verses.
During the entire show, there was a lone microphone at the lip of the stage. Adams finally put it to use to close the show on the aforementioned "Goodnight Hollywood Blvd." Sunglasses on, he rocked back and forth, bathed in red light as he bade the crowd farewell with "goodnight, see ya soon."
The lone faux pas of the night was the lack of encore. Music fans and concert goers today just expect a band to come back for a song or two after a set. Perhaps it’s a feeling of entitlement, but it is what it is. So, despited the audience clapping for five minutes, the lights went up and "Rock the Casbah" came on over the PA. The crowd looked at each other, feeling like they had been taken to the edge but not quite pushed over it.
However, the lack of encore doesn’t downplay the fact that for the previous 90 minutes, Adams and the Cardinals bared their souls and left it all on stage. That’s what everyone came for in the first place.
Setlist: Please Do Not Let Me Go, Dear John, Let It Ride, The Sun Also Sets, Goodnight Rose, Night Birds, Blue Hotel, Starlite Diner, Two, Oh My God Whatever Etc, Blue Sky Blues, Wildflowers, I Taught Myself How To Grow Old, Elizabeth You Were Born To Play That Part, Carolina Rain, Peaceful Valley, Magnolia Mountain, Goodnight Hollywood Blvd.
Photos by Josh Mintz / photosbyjosh.com