Saturday, 22 November 2008

Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Brixton Academy, London, 20 November 2008

Ryan Adams recently took a break from his disturbingly productive writing/recording process (10 albums in 8 years - 1.25 albums per year!) to tour his latest release, Cardinology. The album's title is a good indication of his developing relationship with his band and according to Pitchfork his recordings may simply be known as 'The Cardinals' from now on.

So does all this actually mean anything? Well, as the bespectacled Adams took to the elaborately set stage - complete with 2 intricately neon-blue lit Roses from the artwork for the Cold Roses LP (the first album he recorded with the Cardinals) artwork and a sizeable Cardinals logo - it does seem he's back to being part of a band (like Whiskeytown before) as opposed to being a solo artist. He was 'tightly knit' with the band, and happily ceded the spotlight to the Caridinals' lead guitar, Neal Casal to sing 'Freeway To the Canyon' and 'Grand Island'. Much like Conor Oberst (see my earlier review), the band suits him, they sync and play off each other making it particularly enjoyable to watch them live (although, unlike Conor, Ryan has been with his band for 4 years now).

The sound at Brixton during the first few songs (Cobwebs, Everybody Knows and Sink-Ships) was poor, with level problems, but this thankfully fixed soon after. The setlist comprised of more recent songs (particularly off the newest release) interspersed with older tracks, such as 'Come Pick Me Up' (which received a decidedly good reaction from the crowd) 'Wonderwall', 'La Cienega Just Smiled', 'Desire' and 'Please Do Not Let Me Go'. The standout track was the energetically raw 'Crossed Out Name', which was surprisingly ten times better than the soft 'ballad' CD version. It has definitely made me see the CD track (which I did, upon listening, originally enjoy) as a poor sibling to the superior live version.

Although focused on the music (most songs led directly into each other without pause), Adams did engage with the audience - letting them know he'd "never had so much f***ing fun in London!" along with "I love what you're wearing, I love what you did with your hair this year". I particularly appreciated the grunts he gave in response to certain audience members' loud, garbled requests for songs. As the gig went on he began to lighten the mood by splitting up the snogs with sarcastic retorts such as "one more song that will make you want to kill yourself!" which went down well with the fans. The evening drew to a close with the encore of the brilliantly subtle 'I See Monsters', which was well chosen to wind down the gig, while Adams was aptly illuminated in a green light.

Despite the often unappreciative crowd around me (with some not particularly engaging with the newer tracks) , the sheer number of songs (26) combined with the band's cohesion and energy (with many tracks differing from the CD versions), made it a memorable, if not mind-blowing performance. My fingers are crossed for a live release of the tour featuring 'Crossed Out Name'!

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