Ryan Adams tunes in and plows through the noise in Boston
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Ryan Adams took the stage at the Wang Theatre in Boston with his new band, recently dubbed the Shining, and immediately got down to business, jumping into a loud, punchy “Gimme Something Good” that takes all of the energy of the recorded release and amps it up 100 percent without sacrificing the song’s natural speed.
It’s the move of a tight, consummate professional. For all the erratic reputation of Adams, most of that lives in a past that’s at least five years old now, if not more. Adams now, as a musician and performer, has found a space to exist where he’s as dependable as a well-worn watch and just as unpredictable as ever. Gone are the freakouts or threats of cancellation, and in its place is a defiant, unrepentant artist, here to play music ever night and make the most of those two hours on stage.
Make the most of it he did. He pulled out rarely played gems like “This House Is Not for Sale” from the Love Is Hell era, reworked older tunes “New York, New York” and “Dear Chicago,” and gave plenty of time to songs from his new LP and from his recent string of singles, including three from 1984 and the A-side of his latest, “Do You Laugh When You Lie.” And he was workmanlike, stepping from song to song and only stopping to deal with the chatterboxes that occasionally popped up between numbers.
This being a Ryan Adams show in Boston, there was a small amount of distraction he was able to successfully overcome. The usual screaming song requests were met with winking put downs from Adams — “You see, sir, there’s a setlist, and we’re playing those songs. We thought about this and actually prepared before the concert tonight” — and he got the 99 percent of the crowd not acting like asses on his side, joking to other person who told him to hurry up that “you should go find that other guy over there and start a blog.” Where he might have (rightfully) lost it 10 years ago, he’s now brushing it off and going back to work.
And the work has been incredible. There was an overwhelming gratification in witnessing this band come into its own in a relatively short amount of time. The band I saw in Newport was only on its third gig and certainly playing at a high level, taking cues from its emotional leader and presenting the songs well. But in the four months since, they’ve changed, growing into a sympathetic monster that acted as a new set of limbs for Adams rather than merely propping him up. As he swayed, so did they, darting when needed and stretching out without needing to be asked.
As for living up to their predecessors, the Shining are now tackling more of the Cardinals’ signature tracks, turning “Magnolia Mountain” into a beautiful ballad with more shades of the Dead than even the Cardinals tried to muster, while “Cold Roses” had as much of its deep, exploratory pleasure as it ever has. Where they were leaning towards the punchier tracks in Adams’ catalog early on, now they’re jumping at the spacier material.
But it’s not the same. “I See Monsters” was a huge, booming moment late in the set, with the guitars and drums locking in and shaking the Wang’s gilded walls, but where the Cardinals might have kept that jam going for another five or 10 minutes, the Shining ended things abruptly, stopping on a dime to such a point of shock that it felt like an unexpected pause in the song. But there was just a smile from Adams to drummer Freddie Bokkenheuser, who had played like a tightly wound madman all night, and then it was on to the next thing.
Following a surprisingly melodic band introduction that went on for about three minutes, Adams and the Shining launched into a lilting “Peaceful Valley” that condensed the entire evening — the exploration, the sonics, the delicate colorings next to the crashing chords — into five minutes of old school bliss. And with that, there was no encore, no gamed break before another couple of songs. The work for the evening was through. It was time to pack up and get ready for the next night.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org