Ryan Adams | 01.29.08 | Santa Cruz

Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Josh Miller

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals :: 01.29.08 :: Catalyst Club :: Santa Cruz, CA

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals :: 01.28.08
Waiting in line, I could hear the ruckus inside was already fully underway. By the time my hand was stamped, Ryan Adams' head was nodding hard as he worked a three-chord piece of guitar gristle over an undulating jam. Behind him, The Cardinals surged and receded with intuitive beauty. One instantly groks that this fantastic band's understanding of Adams' music elevates things in a way no single person, however talented, could alone. Watching them fly without a net can make you a little woozy, like riding in a plane that seems to be in free fall only to swoop to safety and serenity at the last moment. Before long they'd tamed their wild hair and emerged into "A Kiss Before I Go," a sweet one The Beatles might have stumbled upon if Paul worked more closely with Ringo.

The Santa Cruz show was a vibrating, hard-edged reminder of their consistency and creative toughness of late. While still unnaturally youthful looking, Adams is a far cry from the cat we met in Whiskeytown in 1994. Putting aside all the salacious (and likely slanderously false) tales of his behavior, his music has continued a steady upward arc that marks him as a keeper for the ages. Sparring partners like Phil Lesh, Cowboy Junkies, America and current right hand man in the Cardinals, Neal Casal (guitar, vocals) speak to the depths of his work, which only grows richer the longer he collaborates with The Cardinals, who're rounded out by Brad Pemberton (drums, percussion), Jon Graboff (pedal steel, vocals) and Chris Feinstein (bass). Keyboardist-producer Jamie Candiloro has moved onto other pastures, which made for an even more pronounced RAWK vibe than last year's Catalyst performance (see our review of that show here).

Ryan Adams :: 01.28.08
That July 2007 gig was the inaugural electric show for the current tour, which Adams noted with obvious delight. "This is where we broke our teeth," said Adams, "but they all grew back." Their exciting, restless approach to actively exploring these songs night after night meant that last year's Grateful Dead-esque "Cold Roses" had taken on the exquisite finger-knotted sharpness of early Richard Thompson and Fairport Convention including gorgeous, folksy harmonies that ended in a layered a cappella group sing. During this one and many others, Casal's solos were knife edged precision, a pretty scalpel to the more wide swinging tools Adams wields with his instrument. Graboff's pedal steel was often the wind at their backs. His mastery of that most difficult instrument continues to amaze, especially because he always adds something substantive to the string conversation, even in the punkier, Sonic Youth-y moments. Graboff takes the pedal steel out of its usual weep and twang ghetto, and rocked more than a few of us back on our heels at this show.

If ever a musician were acutely aware of how they're perceived it's Adams, who fucks with and feeds those perceptions constantly. At times he's whip smart and crazy charming and others not so much. But in Santa Cruz he was on. Responding to a heckler, he said, "It's times like these that I'm glad I'm deaf." The Cardinals even got in on the between song shenanigans, taking the piss out of their leader with genuine affection and understanding. "This is how you can tell it's a band: they grab the mic and engage the audience," chuckled Adams. Their shared sense of purpose and camaraderie carry over to the music, which is pleasantly shenanigan free.

This show was a "16 years and up" affair, so the cross-section of ages was something else. Teenagers danced quietly next to tie-dye granddaddies with some bikers and goth kids thrown in for good measure. The mix speaks to the universality of Adams' exceedingly well-crafted songs. What was exciting for longtime listeners was the happy warping of his catalog that's taking place live. This night "Easy Plateau" and "Goodnight Rose" had the classic rock poetry of Derek and the Dominoes or Traffic. Like many great artists, he seems to pull this stuff from the Great Ether and force it into the physical realm.

Ryan Adams and The Cardinals :: 01.28.08
There are hints of this archetypal bigness throughout his catalog but he's helped greatly by this assemblage of players. The Cardinals listen hard. They listen to Adams, one another and to the voices inside the Ether. Watching them eyeball one another in Santa Cruz was like being privy to a hunt, each man sniffing out something intangible to most but sharp as sulfur to them. Pemberton knew just when to employ mallets instead of heavy sticking, and Feinstein moved like a boa constrictor or spirit wind around the legs of everyone else onstage, his bass always alive and alert within each tune. At one point, I thought, "This is how Paul Westerberg always dreamed The Replacements might sound."

There were equal measures of wildness and thoughtful control to their playing that still allowed space for odd twists and fumbles like Adams getting thoroughly lost in the foothills of "Magnolia Mountain" during the encore and swinging directly into a lovely version of "Blue Hotel." The band caught the first word of the new song and banked left without a hiccup. These guys also sounded great on "Freeway To The Canyon," a Neal Casal tune from 2006's No Wish To Reminisce where the guitarist took the spotlight.

More than any single moment (and there were plenty worth noting including a cataclysmic assault on "I See Monsters") it was the togetherness of every aspect in the music that one took away from Santa Cruz. From Adams' wonderfully wounded voice to the sparkling instrumental conversation, this rocks from the foundation up. One felt their spirit rise as Adams crooned, "Don't give up on love" or "The sun will come up again," which might be dull platitudes in lesser hands. Late in the evening, Adams summed it up well: "I think this is a pretty fuckin' rad gig."

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[Published on: 2/4/08]

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Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Mon 2/4/2008 07:04PM
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This is a great band that plays great music! Wish I coulda been there! Hope they come to Denver soon!

jcmcilwaine starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/5/2008 07:02AM
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Great review. I knew this show would be top-notch - actually entertained visions of making the flight from NYC. The Catalyst is a great venue, Ryan Adams is the man, and your description and insights do them both much justice.

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/5/2008 07:35AM
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Very well written article. It really gives the feeling of a Cardinals show. They are truly on fire right now. And the songs.......wow the songs.

Listen or download this show here -


Zarathustra024 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/5/2008 07:51AM
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Great review Dennis! Your consistently eloquent phrasing and depth of musical understanding have once again brightened my work day. This band is amazing and Ryan Adams has written some truly epic and timeless tunes. I haven't had the priveledge of seeing them live, but there are tons of soundboards on archive.org for our listening pleasure. Thanks to RA and the Cardinals for sharing their special talents.

moemoe6434 starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/5/2008 08:51AM
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Great review (Is universality a word? Do you mean versitility?), Ryan Adams is the sh*t!

I_Drink_It_Up starstarstarstarstar Tue 2/5/2008 11:50AM
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Ryan is the best "new" artist out there today. I wish he would come down south more.

Revpnice starstar Tue 2/5/2008 02:58PM
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glad he decided to show up for this one.

mickrod420 Wed 2/6/2008 01:11PM
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wheres the setlist?

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Thu 2/7/2008 05:25AM
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Here is the setlist:

Ryan Solo


02.Call Me On Your Way Back Home

03.Damn, Sam (I Love A Woman That Rains)


Cardinals Set 1

01.Bartering Lines

02.Cold Roses>

03.Blue Hotel

04.Off Broadway

05.Rescue Blues


07.Everybody Knows

08.Goodnight Rose

09.The Sun Also Sets


11.Freeway To The Canyon

Set 2


02.When The Stars Go Blue

03.Beautiful Sorta

04.Peaceful Valley>

05.Dear Chicago

06.Graboff Joke//Happy Birthday Spacewolf

07.A Kiss Before I Go

08.Shakedown On 9th Street

snappy Thu 2/7/2008 07:15AM
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This is isn't the setlist for the Santa Cruz show. "Easy Plateau" was played late in the 2nd set and "When The Stars Go Blue" wasn't played at all. Just FYI.

jackiesoup starstarstarstarstar Fri 2/8/2008 05:46AM
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My bad..wrong show.(Sorry)


Set 1

01. Peaceful Valley->

02. Beautiful Sorta

03. Shakedown On 9th Street

04. Bartering Lines

05. A Kiss Before I Go

06. Cold Roses

07. Freeway To The Canyon

08. Wildflowers

09. Mockingbird->

10. Off Broadway

Set 2

01. Why Do They Leave

02. Everybody Knows

03. I See Monsters

04. The End

05. Please Do Not Let Me Go

06. Goodnight Rose

07. "Casserole and meatloaf"

08. Easy Plateau


09. Magnolia Mountain

10. Blue Hotel

breadloaf Mon 2/11/2008 07:42AM
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Dennis, your work for this site is always best in my opinion. Having lived in Santa Cruz long ago, I really wish I could have been there and hope Ryan does some East gigs. I am new to him and have not yet seen him play. I would have to say that he is my current favorite songwriter by far.