Words by: Dustin Safranek
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals :: 09.25.07 :: Riverside Theater :: Milwaukee, WI
Amidst layered blue light and a starry backlit canopy, Ryan Adams sat at a red piano, located stage right at the Riverside Theater in downtown Milwaukee. He had returned alone to appease five minutes of encore cheers from a crowd of close to 2000 people. He lit a cigarette, the smoke masking his already bang-covered face further from the captivated audience.
| Ryan Adams & The Cardinals :: 09.25 by Safranek|
Long before the show had begun, concerned onlookers spoke of Adam's sensitive temperament and how it correlated with the quality of his performances. Tension swelled throughout the room as fans screamed for favorites such as "Come Pick Me Up" and "To Be Young." Adams approached the microphone and as it became apparent he would speak, I thought we might witness a confirmation of his notorious temperament.
"Don't feed the bears unless you want to get bit," Adams jovially whispered.
He must have been in a fairly good mood because the tension disappeared and the performance maintained a high level of energy and professionalism for close to two hours, highlighting songs off of his new record, Easy Tiger, like "Goodnight Rose" and "I Taught Myself To Grow," as well as drawing gems from Jacksonville City Nights like "Dear John," "Peaceful Valley," "Games" and "A Kiss Before I Go." He also played fan favorites "Night Bird" off of 2005's 29 and "When the Stars Go Blue" off of 2001's Gold.
Much of the show was very rock oriented, with Adam's proving to be a much more accomplished guitar player than one would expect for someone trumpeted so highly as a songwriter. He took solos regularly, as well as leading what seemed to be improvised jam sections, harmonizing his guitar with that of Cardinal's guitarist-singer Neal Casal. The two's harmonies and guitar work mellifluously carried the show from start to finish. The rhythm section served the songs well, while occasional glimmer was provided by pedal steel player Jon Graboff.
As the clamor from the encore rally subsided, Adams puts down his cigarette. Completely alone on stage, the song he wielded revealed itself as an abstract, almost indistinguishable version of The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar." It's a beautiful and melancholy contrast to the more upbeat, soaring southern rock sounds achieved most of the evening with The Cardinals. The hammers of the piano were struck somberly as the silenced masses focused in on what they all truly came to see - the creator of all those gut wrenching songs at his most stripped down and vulnerable.
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