Here's how Ryan Adams beat back a case of the Mondays in Minneapolis. He retreated to his man cave, cracked open a ginger ale, plugged in a Strat he'd just bought, and played a few songs with some buddies.
This Adams-curated scene was only contradicted by a few thousand people spread into three packed balconies, lights approximating a classic-rock planetarium show, and the glow of vintage arcade games onstage. Besides those oh-so-minor accoutrements -- plus the untrue assertions that there'd be no professionalism in store -- it was anyone's low-key start to the work week.
Spanning his decade-plus solo career, Adams mostly chose material that matched the gray skies of the day and the falling autumn leaves. Occasionally, he cranked the amps too.[jump]
The night repped this year's Ryan Adams with only four songs -- the first of which was deviously catchy single "Gimme Something Good." With his recent creations, the long-suffering denim-suited heartbreaker of a lyricist, bandleader, and showman has once again tightened into the cultural conversation.
The rock album's production echoes '80s Tom Petty (and Bryan Adams), and its words scratch at the recent personal struggles inside his bird's nest of a head. His trials, which kept devotees at arm's length for a few years, turned out to be catalysts for one of the most 2014-sounding things around, and what a reunion it has been.
Along with showcasing new ones like "Kim" and "Stay With Me" -- and totally owning a cover of Bryan Adams's "Run to You" -- the night adapted Adams's mastery to fit a retro path once traveled by the Wilburys. (Serious question: Is it too soon to refer to the '80s with the retro tag?) His four-piece backing ensemble was anchored by guitarist Mike Viola, who produced the new album and seemed to know how to keep his boss happy. Harmonizing just enough, and letting understated gestures guide him, Viola ceded the stage to Adams without undercutting his ability to enhance. After starting with "Gimme Something Good," the night rarely rocked as hard from then on.
Instead, Adams and band often performed slowly and deliberately, and played with the dynamics of Northrop's now-pristine acoustics. Off 2011's Ashes & Fire, "I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say" rendered the auditorium silent for the first of several occasions. Echoing gospel and the tender work of Bonnie Raitt, Adams took the proceedings to church. Keyboardist Daniel Clarke's elegant vintage organ accompaniment proved ample setup for a tender falsetto coda, and more than a few lovers' embraces in the room.
Between songs, Adams was his usual salty, pithy self. His stream of non sequitur jokes cut through the melodrama sometimes on the precipice. He chided the audience about their reliance on Twitter ("What's on the feed?") and even grabbed a piece of black tape to pass out to a man to put over the light on his camcorder. His maiden voyage with the guitar he purchased at Willie's in St. Paul earlier in the day seemed enough of a pacifier to keep most potentially derailing diatribes at bay.
Proving that this wasn't just a singer-songwriter affair, the band twanged like the Flying Burrito Brothers for a honky-tonkin' "A Kiss Before I Go," and plumbed the depths of Pink Floyd on the acid-washed "Peaceful Valley." What started as another quiet moment in "I See Monsters" -- squeezing every bit of tenderness out of its paranoiac stanzas -- expanded to a Led Zeppelin-like finish, and a walloping drum solo from Freddie Bokkenheuser.
Over time, Adams has crested both on purpose and accidentally with melodies that get stuck in our ears and observations that lodge themselves in our hearts. One such pairing was the unintentional 9/11 anthem "New York, New York." The band sat back and let him roll it out acoustically, with a harmonica roaring like the peak of rush hour at Grand Central Station. That moment alone was enough to make the concert a keeper.[page]
Still, for all of Adams's distractions, glints of maturity, clever character studies, and passing obsessions -- Grateful Dead, Oasis, the Strokes, and this current, strange situation with Bryan Adams -- he still can't overshadow the wide-eyed innocence conveyed in his crowning solo work, Heartbreaker. Especially on a gray Monday in Minneapolis. You can't fight that kind of fate.
After a few more exchanges with noisier fans, Adams didn't seem to mind returning to the well-worn alt-country paths of "Oh My Sweet Carolina" and "Come Pick Me Up" to end a non-encore encore. They didn't cut like a knife, they weren't reckless, and they certainly wouldn't wake up the neighbors. Musical fads burn bright before extinguishing, but the best songs never go out of style.
Personal Bias: I loooooove the crass stage banter at Ryan Adams shows almost as much as the songs. A cherished few can greet you with "We couldn't find the fucking stage. This place is like the goddamn Deathstar," and stories about dogs pissing on aluminum cans, Dairy Queen Twitter rants, almond milk nipples, sociopathic emojis -- and then later rip out your tear ducts.
The Crowd: Enthused to be at a good Ryan Adams show.
Random Notebook Dump: On "Run to You," he claimed that motherfucker.
Gimme Something Good
Let It Ride
This House Is Not for Sale
I Love You But I Don't Know What to Say
Stay With Me
I See Monsters
New York, New York
A Kiss Before I Go
English Girls Approximately
My Wrecking Ball
Oh My Sweet Carolina
Run to You (Bryan Adams)
Come Pick Me Up