Ryan Adams' Live Set at Rialto Proves Whiskeytown Is Dead

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Ryan Adams might not have played the song you were expecting last night. - C. ELLIOT
  • C. Elliot
  • Ryan Adams might not have played the song you were expecting last night.

For a person who puts his pants on one leg at a time, Ryan Adams can sure deliver the intergalactic star quality. His most dazzling talent is still his prolific songwriting, soulful poetry chock-a-block with emotionally incisive take-away lines. And he has no fear of a deeply pretty chord progression. Onstage, his retro-seventies guitar solos have few peers for passion, and his voice is agile, with an occasionally silky lilt between snags.

He can also be funny as hell on the fly, and last night he delivered the ultimate single-guy cooking tip: Make that mac ‘n cheese really special by adding onion soup mix to the cheese powder. Having moved more-or-less silently through the set, Adams burst into fun near the end, teasing crowd members about watching the show through their smart phone cameras, and calling out a woman wearing sun glasses. “I feel you,” he said to her. “That’s how high I am every day,” before creating a back story that might end with her determined not to let anyone see her cry. Later, he made up an entire song, with four verses, to introduce his keyboard player. Other band members gamely joined in with guitar, drums, harmonies and belly laughs.

Designed not to trigger effects of Adams’ optical-neurological disorder, Meniere's disease, abstract stage lighting performed like another entertainer onstage. Rather than quick changes and strobe effects, it seemed to evolve among moods.

Song selections ranged through his catalog with minimal emphasis on his 2014 eponymous release. The solo acoustic “Winding Wheel,” from Adams’ 2000 “Heartbreaker.” was a favorite of the crowd and inspired the only singalong of the night. “Dirty Rain,” from the 2011 release “Ashes of Fire,” was a heart-stopping, TV-ready crime drama. Repeated requests for “16 Days,” a workhorse from Adams’ Whiskeytown era, were more or less satisfied with a death metal version inspired by, Adams said, the band Mercyful Fate. His costume for the evening was a Misfits T-shirt. For the last time, Whiskeytown is dead, people. And the rest of us are running like bandits with the best of what’s after.

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