REVIEW: Ryan Adams the real deal

Ryan Adams may be too country for rock ‘n’ roll, too rock ‘n’ roll for country and a bit too much of both to properly fit into the dreaded “alt-country” genre, but you’ll rarely find a more genuine personality on the whatever-you-want-to-call-it scene today.

For an enthusiastic, beered-up crowd at the Jubilee Auditorium Friday night, Adams required no gimmicks, displayed no artifice, and deployed no clichés. Not a single one. This in fact may be a first for the history of Edmonton concerts, at least since Adams opened for Oasis in 2008 (and as legend has it, once sent fans at the folk fest away in droves). Fitting he did a cover of Wonderwall.

The rest of his powerful original music spoke for itself, with the aid of a fine band. None of them proved themselves to be virtuoso soloists, but that meant the songs could do the heavy lifting, as they should.

Adams and band drew music from umpteen albums (he’s averaged about one a year since he started solo in 2000 and apparently writes music in his sleep), each filled with beautifully-written songs whose tone draws from country feel and comes off with pure rock energy. Yet – bizarrely – it really never did feel like the dreaded “country rock” genre, even when Adams brought out the (dreaded) harmonica harness for a solo take on Doomsday, a powerful love song. There were other powerful love songs, like Do You Still Love Me?, which opened the show. Prisoner, the title track of Adams latest album, speaks of “forbidden” love.

The whole concert felt ragged and unplanned, off the cuff, yet delivered with precision where it counted. The banter between songs was the real deal: As if you were talking to the guy face to face. He in fact did, at one point, address a gentleman in the crowd who sneezed – likely due to the organic incense-spewing fog machines (incense: if flowers could fart). He teased the hapless audience member, and called it a “gentle sneeze,” whereupon the band launched into an improvised song about sneezing that managed to squeeze in two shots at Donald Trump. Adams called his president a “motherfucker,” just for the record.

There were other eccentric touches: The presence of giant stuffed tiger on stage, with a new gift from a fan of a little tiger stuffy; a stage littered with appeared to be old television sets that didn’t seem to work very well (but with modern concert tech could of course display any image desired); and a special appearance from “Death.” He introduced the band, and later came out to bang a tambourine. Death has rhythm.

All of this nonsense may seem trivial, but it adds depth to a character that comes through so powerfully in his music: It’s friendly, it’s funny, it’s dark – and it’s real. That’s the important thing.

Top photo from Ryan Adams’ official Facebook page