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Ryan Adams & the Cardinals – Birmingham Academy

by E Streeter


About a year ago I went to see Ryan Adams and the Cardinals with a friend and having seen about an hour and a quarter I was really none the wiser as to whether Ryan Adams is a rock musician trapped inside a wistful country boy’s shell, or not. I’m still not sure but I really don’t care because it really doesn’t matter.

Adams has a singing style simultaneously fragile and brave, a high register full of soul and a pleasing mid-range which conveys emotion and surprising enjoyment. He is also prepared to deliver achingly personal sentiments sotto voce, quiet, plaintive and in a sweet falsetto. That said, snivelling indie kids expecting an evening of angst will be disappointed because Ryan Adams and the Cardinals play songs which engage and enthral. The other Cardinals are the usual American standard collective of highly-competent players with the unenviable task of remembering a back catalogue from such a prolific writer.

Statistically, this gig ended just ten minutes short of three hours to a three-quarters full Carling Academy. With no support act. Adams and Co took the stage just after 8 with the minimum of fuss, Ryan emphasising the collegiate nature of the evening with the first of four ‘we are the Cardinals’ references and an upbeat opening sequence which featured the excellent ‘Rescue Blues’ and some livelier material. The ‘Easy Tiger’ and ‘Cardinology’ material sounded strong and confident and on this evidence, there’s still fuel in the songwriting tank.

For someone who bares their heart on a regular basis, Ryan Adams disdains the polemic style of Billy Bragg or the pre-Rising Springsteen, content to let his songs do the talking for him. Apart from some arcane meandering about oversized calculators in Oxford and in-jokes with his pals, Adams restricted himself to short introductions and diffident thank yous..

I’ve bought RA&TC CDs like ‘29’ and ‘Heartbreaker’ and find Ryan Adams a frustrating ‘hit and miss’ artist, far too much average alt-country material padding out the songs that grab your attention. Thankfully, this tour seems to have been scripted with set lists and strong material like ‘Beautiful Sorta’and ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’ to the fore. Highlight for me was the low key melodic caressing of ‘Wonderwall’, breathing new life into what is now karaoke-fodder for the terminally unimaginative. Adams did four songs at the Wurlitzer and on this evidence should do a bit more because he was uniformly excellent, showing that his surprisingly strong rock guitar isn’t the only surprise he has.

After an interminably long wait, the half hour encore featured this writer’s favourite ‘Stars Go Blue’ and ‘I See Monsters’. However, a Ryan Adams gig wouldn’t be interesting without an attempt to snatch defeat from the jaws of triumph, which the self-indulgent feedback fiesta ‘Magnolia Mountain’ undoubtedly was. A surreal ending to what was, on the whole, three hours well spent.


5 Responses

  1. He has equal capacity to annoy and enthral. though, for me, the country stuff widdles all over the rock stuff. the new album is good, though no Heartbreaker.

  2. RA is an under-rated treasure, and anyone capable of writing a song as beautiful as ‘Stars Go Blue’ or something as clever as ‘Pick Me Up’ deserves a much wider audience.

  3. He made a fortune off of ‘Stars Go Blue’ because a country bloke – Tim McGraw, I believe – covered it and sold millions.

  4. I like him a lot but he is erratic live and releases far too much material…….but every album has at least one real diamond.

  5. Yep, download ‘I’d Fix It’ from the new one.

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