Few artists have been as prolific as Ryan Adams in getting out their recordings. The Jacksonville, North Carolina-born singer, songwriter, producer and poet has released 17 albums, starting with Heartbreaker in 2000.
Up first though was the support act, Karen Elson, from Oldham, Lancashire who played songs, including Wolf, from her recently released album, Double Roses. Her set brought together beautiful arrangements with guitar, violin and some lifting, acoustic Vangelis from the harp player.
Clowder and cluster
A quick break, the stage rearranged to reveal a clowder of stuffed cats and a cluster of computers and Ryan Adams kicked off his splendid spectrum of songs with his very first one recorded as a solo artist (that is, if you set aside the banter about Morrissey on the actual first track), To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High). The harmony shared with the keyboard player, Ben Alleman on one of his common themes of rain (Oh, the days the rain would fall your way) was a spine-tingling start for this appreciative Calgary crowd at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium. The performance kept going uphill from there, both with his songs and the entertaining banter about genetic disease, dentists, Michael MacDonald and more.
Let it Ride from Cold Roses was played with multiple screens showing a road trip through the desert, leading into Magnolia Mountain, from the same album, cheekily offered up as an early encore that developed through flamboyant wow wow pedal from guitarist Benny Yurco to swirling Hammond organ. Those monitors were put into good use again, displaying volcanic and nuclear eruptions as hard, yet jangling chords introduced Gimme Something Good (from the self-titled 2014 album, Ryan Adams).
Just in time for a slow song
“I love that song,” Ryan said. “It wakes everyone up just in time for a slow song!”, he joked and went, anyway, into the slower paced and gorgeous Alt-Country Two, from Easy Tiger (2007) with its agilely alliterated “It’s leaking from the faucet and I’m fractured from the fall.”
To Be Without You
Ben Alleman’s singing was complemented by Mister Adams who likened it to the voice of Michael MacDonald. He rendered a high-pitched version of how that singer might get up in the morning and sing about flossing his teeth! Segue into Ryan sharing his fear of the dentist and the revelation that he didn’t visit one for ten years. Well, he didn’t have any cavities or so he thought until he paid that visit and had “about 17 cavities to deal with”. The next song, To Be Without You, from the new album, Prisoner, was diggingly dedicated to that dental profession. Maybe that connection comes with the line For everything you lose, some wisdom will find its way out?
Welcome back to Canada!
Under a single spotlight piercing through the accumulating dry ice smoke, Ryan played Doomsday, also from Prisoner, solo with acoustic and harmonica. A perfect stage was set for the next song, When The Stars Go Blue, played under the light of a rotating disco light strung up high in the Jubilee Auditorium. “I’ve always wanted to play that song this way.” he said with clear joy, then someone in the crowd shouted, “Welcome back to Canada”. Ryan was clearly moved. “That’s why Canada’s so fucking awesome!” he responded. (It’s) “the first heckle of the night and you said welcome back to Canada!”
A couple of The Cardinals songs from the double album Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights were segued together under a criss-cross of magenta lights and a backcloth of a thousand stars on a dark night. The title track, Cold Roses, the best one so far, came with chunky guitar coursing into funky keys and fab jazz chops. The stuffed felines and cool cat dudes were clearly enjoying themselves as the music ventured in and out of what you might hear on the recordings, transitioning into the slow paced Dear John with its cat connections in the lyrics. Oh, the joy of live performance!
Turn Off the Flash
A change of pace once more and the energetic opener from The Prisoner, Do You Still Love Me? On the closing of this song, Ryan opened up about his issues with Ménière’s disease, a condition of the inner ear that leads to vertigo and sickness and is triggered by flashlights. Someone at the front had a red LED light operating with their cell phone and it was causing him some bother. “It’s not your fault, it’s mine, it’s genetic,” he said, handling the situation with aplomb. “It’s like you took a light saber and stuck it right into my brain”, Ryan explained. “I’m going to have a seizure and then they’ll have to take me out like a Mummy.” The audience laughed along but got the point and there was no need to bring in the men/women with the white coats. A 12 string acoustic version of Prisoner that began quietly with 12 string guitar erupted into a feedback-enhanced, wailing electric solo. “I did not nail that solo admitted Ryan, “There was too much sauce!”
Into the Encore
After Haunted House (Prisoner, 2017) there was Peaceful Valley, brilliantly showcasing Ryan’s singing voice and another monster guitar solo, then Stay With Me, after which he acknowledged his Canadian namesake: “That song was legitimately my best Bryan Adams song ever”. A couple more songs, I Just Might and Invisible Riverside led through to the final number that completed the round, going back to Heartbreaker’s Why Do They Leave?”
After a long and rich set “It’s not possible that we could do one more song”. Of course, Ryan was kidding and took the band through three encore numbers. First was the much-loved New York, New York, done solo with guitar and harmonica, which he held up for a moment, mid-song, to complain, tongue in cheek, that the audience’s clapping was putting him off his rhythm. Then there was Come Pick Me Up and the Rockabilly Shakedown On 9th Street to send a very contended crowd off into the rainy Calgary night.
An excellent gig from one of the music world’s most prolific songwriters, covering 21 songs his vast collection from 2000 to 2017. My top three picks:
#1: Cold Roses
#2: Come Pick Me Up
#3: New York, New York
The verdict: Great Gig, Ryan Adams. Come back to Calgary soon.