Opera House
February 3 | Reviewed by James Robinson

IT’S BEEN a pretty crazy nine years for Ryan Adams. Viewed with no knowledge of his work, or the constantly shifting scale of hate and adoration evoked with the mention of his name, you would still have to give the guy his due for releasing ten albums in nine years (at his peak he had released eight albums in six). But it has been even more hectic than merely releasing a little more than an album a year. It has been a rollercoaster ride of constructed image, and tantrums, from both sides. Ryan Adams has had one idea of Ryan Adams; music journalists another. Each has shifted frenetically, and only occasionally have they two overlapped. He went from being the next Bob Dylan (Heartbreaker), to the rising star of the easy-listening-adult-contemporary world while still holding a dash of “indie-cred” (Gold, and the slightly ignored Demolition), a widely decried disappointment and maligned, over-covered music scene figure (Love is Hell, Rock N Roll), to comeback-kid slash Grateful Dead revivalist (Jacksonville City Nights, Cold Roses, 29). All the while Ryan Adams has played himself as a slightly misunderstood and difficult artist, who wanted to be judged on nothing more than his work. No one bought it. His actions, his styles always indicated at the opposite.

2007 and 2008 saw the emergence of a shrewd, reconsidered Ryan. No spastic image and sound overhauls. A firm cementing of a middle-ground between all of the flags in the ground of Adams’ career. Easy Tiger and Cardinology are slick, professional records – and extremely decent listens. Adams also started to manage his image a bit better, save the odd tantrum. Much of this is credited to the fact that he got sober. Sensibled up.

Ryan Adams mark 2009 is a different beast. He understands where he has been, and what has worked. He has worked out the Ryan Adams formula, and for now at least plans on sticking to it. Which is curious. When I saw Ryan Adams in 2004 in Los Angeles he played for three hours and talked for close to one. It was a messy, yet riveting show. I’d argue that Ryan Adams’ output at the time was the same, all over the place, but when it gets it right – superb. The albums have got more consistent, toggling in the easy plateau between three and four stars. Demolition through 29 alternate between two and five. Understandably critics started to call him into question, but it was great to watch (and listen).

But slick and professional makes for a far surer bet. I’m sure everyone in attendance at the Opera House felt they got their money worth. It was by all measures a lovely evening. Adams’s band the Cardinals are skilled, well equipped musicians. The set-list was perfectly balanced between being dominated by the albums fresh in everyone’s memory and cherry-picked nods to his early work and fan-favourties. The songs are well represented live, tight and taut. The Cardinals bring the prettyness of Adams’s work out, and bring a jam-band quality that can add a bit of wail in the spaces, and entice some of the songs out into ferocious extended remixes. Love is Hell’s ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘I See Monsters’ had their gentle edges turned on their head and were highlights of the night. ‘Cold Roses’ was given a suprisingly classy reggae touch. Outside of this, the songs were largely as on record. The audience were invited to sit back and take in an evening of material they were all obviously familiar with. The new songs played with gusto and enthusiasm, and the classics bought the house down. My own favourites fell vaguely in line with my album choices. ‘Two’, ‘Let it Ride’, and ‘Fix It’ were particularly memorable for me, as well as the handful of tracks off Gold and Heartbreaker. None of it fell short. Ryan Adams has even taught himself to measure out the banter live; he was warm and funny, but we had no lengthy tirades this evening.

I don’t even know why I feel the need to channel this into a criticism, but I felt that Ryan Adams’s live show was deeply representative of his current career. He has become predictably good, but for a longtime follower it was predictable nonetheless. Adams long ago traded consistently transcendental for occasionally brilliant, but trading that for dependably good does have its trade-offs. I’ve always had these moments with Ryan Adams – where it all just seems perfect. I’m a staunch defender of his most defamed works. And I still enjoy Ryan Adams, and probably always will. I just miss being blown away.