“Breaking up” with a musician is a hard thing to do. A lot of folks, including myself, purportedly ended their Ryan Adams fandom after the 2019 New York Times piece that revealed several inappropriate relationships Adams had with women, especially those over which he exercised a considerable amount of career power. There’s no need to rehash all the details here – that’s not what this piece is about. Adams began touring again earlier this year, and I was convinced by a good friend that it was time to give his music – if not him – another chance. So, on a snowy night in Boulder, Colorado, I jumped back in.
Adams’ latest tour has been a solo venture – no backing musicians, no openers. I’d imagine those were choices made to uncomplicate matters and let the songs stand on their own merits. The Boulder Theater (on the second of two sold-out nights) was sparsely decorated with a chair, a piano and a few lamps. Adams took the stage roughly 15 minutes late (owing to a flare-up of Meniere’s disease which required a backstage infusion). He started his set with one of his most beloved songs, “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” and the crowd was all-in from the first note. Musically, the evening was filled with mostly pre-scandal Adams favorites. “New York, New York” became a sparse piano ballad. “Inn Town” from Adams’ Whiskeytown days made a welcome appearance. And his familiar cover of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone” was made even more beautiful and lonely by Adams’ solitary stage presence.
The off-kilter stage banter we remember from Adams’ old shows was back, too. Noting that the quiet setting allowed him to hear any and all conversations in the crowd (seriously, people – stop talking during shows!), he riffed on the imagined personal lives of the offenders, which eventually became an off-the-cuff song that somehow tied together cats, socks, merch, and how Magnum, P.I. ever got cast on Friends. There was also an ongoing gag about the band 311 which kept the house (and this writer) chuckling. Even in a somewhat humbled capacity, Adams still has a quirky ability to let us know where his head’s at without giving away too, too much.
New, post-2019 material was almost non-existent, and that was a wise choice. Ryan Adams’ songs have a way of burrowing deep inside, and their resurfacing reminded me of things – deeply personal moments – I hadn’t thought about in years. I haven’t been able to connect at all with the new tunes, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. As the show wrapped up, I realized I was able – to a degree – to separate the art and the artist for the first time. I hope that Adams is on a better path – he’s sober and working on his mental health – and I hope that he quietly makes amends with the women he treated so poorly. But it’s not my place to forgive, and one writer can’t “cancel” anyone. Nor would I wish to. The songs he played in Boulder on Monday still resonate – one look at the crowd told me that. Even if we don’t fall for the new songs, the older ones still have meaning, and probably always will. That’s what great songs do.
Find more info, music, tour dates etc, here: https://ryanadamsofficial.com
Enjoy our previous coverage, here: REVIEW: Ryan Adams “Wednesdays”