Ryan Adams got cozy and comfortable in Memphis on Saturday (Sept. 30). Surrounded by a simple, visually pleasing stage set up of oversized amplifiers, old, staticky televisions stacked on top of one another, and a backdrop of projected, dimly lit stars, Adams and his backing group the Unknown Band delivered a solid two-hour set that included selections from across his storied career.
Adams took the stage at 8 p.m. sharp, with the shaggy-haired singer emerging from a thick billow of smoke and greeting the sold out crowd at the city’s Orpheum Theater asking, “Y’all ready to have some fun tonight?!” From there, Adams and company launched into the punchy, emotionally heavy “Do You Still Love Me?” – the lead single from his latest release Prisoner – which served as an appropriate table-setter for the evening. Adams, whose music alternates between big, bombastic rock songs, to more delicate numbers, has come to develop some killer reworkings of some of his studio compositions, which helped him deliver a full-on rock-and-roll show. He didn’t disappoint.
The group pummeled through the next three songs in the set – the boisterous barroom brawler “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” and a pair of hits from his critically acclaimed 2014 self-titled record, the excellent “Gimme Something Good” and “Stay with Me” – before Adams slowed the pace a bit to make room for “Two,” from the vastly underrated “Easy Tiger,” and the Springsteen-esque Prisoner track “Outbound Train.” Those tracks were followed by a pared-down version of “Everybody Knows,” a couple of Prisoner tunes (the title track and a killer rendition of “Doomsday”), and a punched-up version the Ryan Adams & The Cardinals tune “Cold Roses.”
The veteran singer-songwriter drew laughs and applause when he playfully chastised a fan donned in Grateful Dead attire sitting in the front row and filming the performance on his phone: “Disconnect, bro! You don’t have to stream it, man! Jerry would want you to watch!”
Adams even improvised a song – we’ll assign it the working title of “Two Empty Chairs” – which he wrote about a bickering couple who were sitting in the front row, but apparently left their post mid-set. Adams penned the song from the female’s perspective, who he imagined was critical of her male counterpart for wearing a sleeveless T-shirt to the show because, his ad-lib song explained, it “exposed his bushy chest hair” and looked like something “he could mow the lawn in.”
Adams and his band are really at their best when they leave themselves enough room to explore musically, while still remaining within the already defined parameters of the tune. This was evident on a really excellent Prince-like version of the Gold fan favorite “When the Stars Go Blue,” or the rollicking “Magnolia Mountain” – in which he and his touring guitarist Todd Wisenbaker traded riffs like sparring partners – as well as other louder cuts like “Fix It” and “Halloweenhead.”
He was also in tune with his early alt-country roots, with his harmonica resonating through the historical theater and his voice, in cruise control, leading the audience on cuts like “New York, New York” and the haunting classic “Come Pick Me Up.”
He closed out the evening with the raucous garage-rocker “Shakedown on 9th Street.”
Throughout the evening, it was evident Adams was in top form and loved playing for Memphis. We loved it, too. If you missed Adams in Memphis, you can catch him next week, Thursday, October 12, at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa – if you can find tickets.
- Do You Still Love Me?
- To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)
- Gimme Something Good
- Stay with Me
- Outbound Train
- Everybody Knows
- Cold Roses (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)
- Improv Song: “Two Chairs”
- Invisible Riverside
- When the Stars Go Blue
- This House is Not For Sale
- Dear Chicago
- Let It Ride (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)
- To Be Without You
- We Disappear
- Magnolia Mountain (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)
- Fix It (Ryan Adams & The Cardinals cover)
- I See Monsters
- New York, New York
- Come Pick Me Up
- Shakedown on 9th Street