Last Night: The Cardinals At Nokia Theatre

The Cardinals Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie October 11, 2008

Better Than: Watching Saturday Night Live--which is what I would have been doing had Mr. Adams and company cancelled this show, as they did in Kansas City and Tulsa Thursday and Friday.

Despite all the Internet hand-wringing over the possible cancellation, The Cardinals made it to Grand Prairie last night with all band members intact.

A bout with the flu had forced a couple of cancellations and had any number of online commenters claiming that Ryan Adams was falling off the wagon, being a diva, about to cancel the whole tour, etc. Only it appears that he actually was legitimately ill--and, last night, he and the Cardinals were out to prove that, indeed, they were back in top form.

Problem is, you never know what you’re going to get when you see Ryan Adams perform live. At different shows, I’ve seen him sit and sulk for most of the performance, berate audience members for talking and then walk off a stage, or dress up in leather and studs and deliver a rambling speech about the merits of metal.

It’s a lottery.

Tonight, it appears that we’ve drawn a playful Adams, who is willing to engage in a little banter with the audience without getting pissy.


The vocals sound a little murky during the opening number (“Cobwebs”), but by the time the band rolls into “Come Pick Me Up”, everything seems pretty well-adjusted. The crowd goes nuts for the harmonica solo, and when Adams peels off his jacket, the ladies get vocal. Who knew a Whitesnake t-shirt had such appeal?

By the third song, The Cardinals have hit their groove. Adams notes that bassist Chris “Spacewolf” Feinstein is still sick, but you can’t tell from where I’m sitting. The amped up and distorted version of “Everything Changes” is energetic and hardly seems like something you could crank out on your deathbed.

It’s at about this point where you start to notice that Adams is having some major tuning issues, though. He says that, since they haven’t played in a few days, nothing is in tune.

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However, as one of my party points out, nobody else seems to be having trouble. Adams spends a total of about 20 minutes throughout the show tuning and cursing at his guitars, shedding one after another and, at one point, taking one off in disgust midway through a song. This goes on throughout the show.

And let’s talk about what “throughout the show” really means right here: Adams rarely travels with an opening act, and the band always play a pretty full set. Last year’s show at McFarlin Auditorium was a full two sets with intermission--one of the longest shows I’ve ever sat through.

That was nothing.

Last night’s show was 29 songs long (maybe 30…I had to take a break at one point). No intermission. While I appreciate getting my money’s worth, two and a half hours of any band can turn into a little bit of a beating.

One of the biggest criticisms you see of Adams is that he frequently fails to edit himself, resulting in albums that should have been EPs (29, anyone?). I think this show was a great example of that; I’m pretty sure everyone would have been just as happy had the show ended around song 25 or so. In fact, the people behind me were asleep.

And Adams got a little testy with the crowd toward the end.

The 29 (or 30) songs drew heavily from last year’s Easy Tiger, but there were a few new ones from the upcoming Cardinology, and the usual string of fan favorites, including a version of “Cold Roses” that swung from gospel revival to reggae in a few bars. While the show could have benefitted from being a touch less…dense, it was still nice to see Adams and The Cardinals having fun with the songs, and mixing things up a little.

God knows that two-and-a-half hours would have been interminable were the songs carbon copies of the album versions.

Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: I have Adams’ new book, Infinity Blues, on pre-order.

Random Note: Be careful. Adams wants to make sure we all know that THIS IS NOT A RYAN ADAMS SHOW. It is a CARDINALS show. And if you make the mistake of screaming his name instead of the band name, you will get a verbal smackdown.

By the Way: Crowds at Ryan Adams/Cardinals shows are weird. They’re equal parts Barley House and Doublewide. You just don’t see a lot of artists capable of bringing in the jorts-wearing, man-sandal crew while at the same time pulling in the “country is the new indie” crew. Ryan Adams is the great social equalizer. --Jennifer Elaine Davis

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