Ryan Adams would like us to
think that it's incredibly difficult being Ryan Adams -- young, talented,
clever and outrageously prolific.
In fact, what's difficult is watching the spectacle of the 29-year-old
North Carolina-bred singer and songwriter acting out the whole tired
"troubled artist" routine and trying desperately hard to convince us of his
Adams came to a packed Riviera Theatre Saturday night with a six-piece
band to promote his official new album, "Llor n Kcor" (that's "Rock 'n'
Roll" backwards), as well as the two EPs that followed a few weeks after
that release, "Love is Hell, Vols. I and II."
Midway through the show, the spiky-haired alternative-country poseur
cursed his label for failing to see that the two EPs are as worthy of hype
as the album, though the record company is absolutely correct in trying to
reign him in and force him to focus: The concert was proof once more that
Adams is his own worst enemy, detracting from his modest talent by thinking
that every idea he has is a good one, and thereby giving us as much garbage
Though Adams is now as notorious for his bad-boy behavior as he is for
his music, the show started promisingly enough, as he and his accomplished
band tore through hard-hitting versions of new rockers such as "1974" and
"Note to Self: Don't Die." For the first five songs, it seemed as if he
might finally be playing to his strengths -- delivering catchy and
motivating roots-rock that is derivative of everyone from Paul Westerberg to
Morrissey, but undeniable nonetheless.
Then things started to go to hell. Adams played "Wish You Were Here" (his
song from the new album, not the Pink Floyd classic) four times in a row,
giving it to us straight, then as hard-core punk, then as a spoofy country
ditty and finally rendering it as sung by Cookie Monster, simultaneously
dissing the barked vocals of the nu-metal genre and paying homage to "Sesame
These 20 minutes of shtick derailed the momentum the group had built up,
and so it went through the rest of the 100-minute set. The band would pick
up speed over the course of a few solid songs, and then Adams would act out,
inviting all of his musicians and the members of the opening band, the
unimpressive Adams clones the Stills, to gather around two mikes for a hokey
mock-hootenanny version of the sexist new ditty, "Miss America."
Later, he improvised an acoustic song about the snow in Chicago, using it
as an excuse to further his pointless feud with local alternative-country
heroes Wilco. "Buy me a video camera so I can make a movie called 'I Am
Trying to Bore You to Death,' " he crooned, sneering at the Wilco film, "I
Am Trying to Break Your Heart."
Adams can release three CDs in a three-week span, but the fact remains
that he still can't write one song as original or as heartfelt as anything
by Jeff Tweedy.
The set ended abruptly and jarringly after 15 songs as Adams threw down
his white Stratocaster and stormed offstage -- he'd been whining about
suffering from the flu, and for a while it seemed as if he might not return.
But the delay was as calculated as the ridiculously long wait before the
start of his set, the better to fuel anticipation.
Eventually, sure enough, the performer returned to offer five songs solo
acoustic, playing the young Dylan role that made a fan out of Elton John,
but offering nothing nearly as impressive lyrically or musically.
The show ended back in full band mode as Adams eschewed the guitar and
ran around with the microphone, imitating Courtney Love by jumping into the
crowd several times during the anthemic singalongs "Burning Photographs" and
The fans (who skewed younger than Adams) ate it all up, but you had to
suspect that it was because they'd never seen the real Courtney, much less
the Replacements or even Wilco.
Absent an historical musical context or a functioning b.s. detector, it
is possible to mistake Adams for being as talented and clever as he thinks
he is. But then there are plenty of people who can't tell the difference
between plastic flowers and real ones, until they bend over to take a whiff.