Adams proves he plays well with others
Ryan Adams takes a lot of flak for being, well, Ryan Adams. His ebullient stage behavior routinely gets him in trouble. Every year brings a rash of new EPs, collaborations, and/or crazy talk about his latest plans (whatever happened to that rap record he was supposedly working on?). His romances - with Parker Posey, Juliana Hatfield, and now his fiancee, pop star Mandy Moore - have fed the rumor mills over the years.
But love him or hate him, Adams is an indefatigable rock star, with talent and fame to spare and often undermined by both. It was odd, then, that his name wasn't on the marquee or even the ticket stub at the Orpheum Theatre Saturday night.
Instead, the show was billed as a performance by the Cardinals, his latest country-rock band, and Saturday's performance was a reminder of something all too easily forgotten: Ryan Adams plays well with others.
The quintet, which Adams has claimed he's quitting after their last scheduled date in March, is touring behind a new album, "Cardinology." Even with Adams standing at a slight distance from his bandmates, the show was rarely about Adams's star wattage.
By Adams's standards, he was pretty much on his best behavior at the Orpheum, even humorous at times. No stranger to drug abuse, he recounted being high once on mushrooms (he made a nice tea with them) and stumbling into a Taco Bell, only to be freaked out when he imagined a burrito was talking to him. And he introduced his band members with rollicking, one-minute mini songs built around their names and the instruments they play. How very Paul Shaffer of him.
Playing rhythm guitar, he kept a close watch on his bandmates, often trading gleeful smiles with them as each member playfully tried to surpass another. Only a band completely in synch could pull off the twisted peaks and valleys of "Easy Plateau," with Adams pleading: "How do I hold on to you/ If I can't hold on to me."
Adams had his frontman moments, though. His solos were often long and labyrinthine, sometimes stretching out songs well into Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead territory. Fellow guitarist Neal Casal was usually close on his heels, and Jon Graboff's pedal-steel flourishes added sepia-toned washes, with particularly gorgeous results on "Oh My Sweet Carolina."
Adams unleashed his high-lonesome croon midway into the show, and it's still a sound to behold. When he did a cover of "Wonderwall," the song's heartbreaking refrain made more sense than when Oasis first recorded it.
With forays into honky tonk ("A Kiss Before I Go") and straight-ahead rock ("Magick"), the Cardinals were most at home on the country rockers. As "Down in a Hole" burned out in a blaze, Adams did what he does best: He waved to the crowd, scrapped the encore, and left everyone wondering what he'll do next.
James Reed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.