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Ryan Adams rocks Indy

James DuBray | Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ex-Whiskeytown frontman turned infamous blogger and now writer, Ryan Adams brought his Cardinals tour to Indianapolis on Thursday. The show at the Murat Theatre was sold out with punks, yuppies, hipsters and preps all in attendance.

Ryan Adams became somewhat famous for his second solo album, “Gold,” which is largely considered to be his best work. “Gold” was released soon after 9/11 and notably featured the song “New York, New York.” Much to Lost Highway Records’ chagrin, the song became an anthem for America’s wounded city.

Adams must have felt like Springsteen when his “Born in the U.S.A” was released, as his tune became a patriotic rallying cry despite the upside-down American flag on his album cover. Adams didn’t literally say that the U.S. had it coming, but the feeling was there.

Compared to New York City, the beauty of Indianapolis is that everything is about eight minutes away. After a short drive and one whiskey coke in the theatre’s lobby, Ryan Adams and his backing band, the Cardinals, began what would be a 26-song set.

Adams didn’t play “New York, New York,” but the oft-covered “Gold” country tune “When the Stars Go Blue” did make an appearance. Adams’ soft voice added to the beauty of the song. If Tim McGraw ever began to care about his singing voice, it would behoove him to give Adams a call. Adams also did a cover himself, slowing down and giving justice to Oasis’s “Wonderwall.” The Beatles wannabes, for whom Adams recently opened, would have been proud.

Despite the inclusion of those two slower tunes, Adams largely used his collaborating Cardinals to put on a ripping and rollicking country rock show. Adams didn’t touch an acoustic guitar all night, only once trading his electric axe for keys on “Rescue Blues.”

The show began with “Cobwebs” a song from Adams’ forthcoming album, “Cardinology.” Adams said very little to the audience directly during the show, but often spoke to his band members through a separate microphone that fed into the group’s earphone system. After 45 minutes of constantly fidgeting with his earpiece, Adams stopped the concert to fix the technical problem. Asking the audience for 10 minutes, the frontman promised to return with “the dream set list.”

Return he did, as Adams and the Cardinals spent the next hour and a half exploring songs from his nine solo albums. The set was heavy on beefed up versions of the 2007 release “Easy Tiger.”

With the major technical problems largely fixed, Adams took off his leather jacket and jammed with his band, who clearly are more of a collaborative force than they have ever been before. The most surprising part of the concert was how much and how loud the band rocked.

“Easy Tiger” featured Adams as his most subdued since his “Whiskeytown” days, yet the Cardinals and their frontman clearly desire to explore new territory on their forthcoming album. The two-and-a-half-minute “Off Broadway” morphed into an 11-minute country rock jam session, while the set ended with an even longer version of “Easy Plateau.”

“Easy Plateau,” a song off of “Cold Roses,” one of the three albums Adams released in 2005, left its alt-country roots behind, becoming a prog-rock exploration. The show ended with Adams screaming the song’s title at the top of his lungs as smoke enveloped the band.

In articles, Ryan Adams often gets mentioned in the same breath as Conor Oberst. Yet, Adams is clearly in the process of growing out of his too-cool-for-explanations, “hipsters only” phase. The high school dropout recently revealed that the true inspiration behind his three-album output in 2005 was a mixture of heroin and cocaine. Realizing that even Jim Morrison wouldn’t have snorted that killer combo, Adams got sober with the help of girlfriend and Banana Republic model Jessica Joffe.

This newfound piece of mind is clearly bleeding into Adams’ live shows, which were once notable for their inconsistency. The old Ryan probably would have flipped out about the earpiece issue that occurred at the beginning of the show. The new Adams took the issue in stride, commenting that he was sorry, but it was almost impossible to sing because the feedback in his ear made him “sound like Darth Vader.” The audience laughed presumably at the joke. Yet, some also must have been chuckling in delight at Adams’ newfound maturity and musical direction.

Sobriety has never been so loud, crazy and brilliant.