Ryan Adams & the Cardinals rolled into town yesterday on what's being billed as a farewell tour of sorts and overcame some early obstacles to deliver a show rich with emotional and sonic majesty.
Adams, guitarist Neal Casal and drummer Brad Pemberton were sighted dining at Acenar's patio on the Riverwalk before the show, just up the street from the Majestic. Adams chatted amiably with a female admirer who managed to garner an invitation to the band's table. But requests for photos from other fans seemed to make the singer/songwriter antsy as he beat a hasty retreat out the back entrance shortly after finishing his meal.
The band took the stage with “I See Monsters,” which starts off slow before building into a powerfully rocking jam that seemed to announce a high-energy show. Other early highlights included “Peaceful Valley” and the new “Born into a Light,” both of which brought a bit of a Neil Young & Crazy Horse type of vibe. Drummer Pemberton and bassist Chris “Spacewolf” Feinstein were in superb form, powering the band with their dynamic rhythm section. But Adams seemed to become distracted by technical issues over the next few songs. “Beautiful Sorta” still rocked and the new “Fix It” sounded fantastic, but it was clear that Adams was still having problems.
The band soldiered on through a trippy “Let it Ride,” but then Adams begged the crowd's indulgence as he asked for a five-minute break to try and deal with the problems he was having with his in-ear monitor (he would later say it sounded like Star Wars in his monitor.) Most of the crowd was probably aware of the ear problems that Adams announced to the world in a January blog post where he said he'd be stepping back from live music after this tour. So the crowd cheered in acceptance before making a mass exodus for the bar.
The band apparently was not able to fix the ear monitor problems during the break that lasted well longer than five minutes because they brought out stools, sat down and proceeded with a set that seemed like an attempt to bring the volume level down a notch in deference to Adams' ear issues. This was disappointing to those looking for the rocking jams, but Adams has to be commended for being on the road at all while he suffers from Meniere's disease, which affects not only his hearing but his balance.
The Cardinals' catalogue is full of dynamic songs that can rock when they want them to, or which have subtler yet still rich sonic tapestries that can be emphasized as well. The band clearly focused on the latter arrangements in the second set. They opened with the title track from 2005's superb Cold Roses double album and the show was back on. It's a great song any way you slice it (Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh still has it in his repertoire after playing some shows with Adams a few years back), but one could tell the band was trying to amp things down a bit. This would be next to impossible for most bands, but the Cardinals have such a strong range that they were able to pull it off.
“Mockingbird” and “Two” were two more tunes which can rock more when they want to, but which were gorgeous in their subtler, laid back renditions. Lead guitarist Neal Casal stepped out on lead vocals for “Freeway to the Canyon,” a melodic gem of a tune about a love lost that only “feels just like a dream now.” Pedal steel guitarist Jon Graboff was perhaps the key throughout the second set, with his ethereal and bluesy sounds lifting every song.
The poignant “Why Do They Leave” opened with its familiar harmonica riff by Adams that drew a huge cheer, only for the comedic frontman to stop and banter about how “it might not be that songâ?¦ it might be a totally different song,” before ultimately delivering the fan favorite. Another highlight was the beautiful “Sweet Carolina,” which received a huge cheer when Adams sang “I went down to Houston and I stopped in San Antoneâ?¦”
“Born into a Light” received a second play of the night, almost as if to put an emphasis on how the arrangements can vary, as with a top jazz band that might repeat a song in a different way. The first set's version was rocking hard by the end, whereas this one was of a mellower variety throughout, but still sounded great because it's just a great tune.
Adams' haunting cover of Oasis' “Wonderwall” wound up closing out the show, right about 11 p.m. Whether they were out of time or skipped an encore because of dumb fans yelling out things like “Oasis rules!” during the quietest part of the song is unknown. But there's little doubt that the Majestic Theater just received one of its finer shows of the year.