By Kathleen Oliver
“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of him…yeah Bryan Adams.”
“Er..no, its Ryan Adams & The Cardinals.”
“Oh, never heard of him.”
This was the usual conversation that played out last week when my friends asked about the band I was off to see at Edinburgh’s newest gig venue, The Picture House, formerly known by many students as ‘Revolution.’
The venue itself is architecturally beautiful and its great to have a new music venue in Edinburgh, as it seems so many ‘decent’ venues are located elsewhere in Scotland. Claustrophobic, sweaty conditions are the norm for many gigs but one exit doorway for a maximum of 1500 people is a little tight to say the least. Despite this, nothing could dampen my excitement at seeing Ryan Adams and his band The Cardinals play live. Ryan Adams used to be a solo artist before teaming up with his band for their last five albums. The Cardinals are Ryan, Neal Casal, Chris Feinstein, Jon Graboff and Brad Pemberton. Yet, as much as Adams tries to tell us that he is now only one fifth of a very talented band, fans of his early albums will almost always see him as the star of The Cardinals. For ‘hard-core’ fans the shift between solo artist and band member will always be hard to accept purely because his solo albums were so widely acclaimed, with breath-takingly beautiful songs, beauty in the best way – the understated way.
So who is Ryan Adams? He is a New Yorker, thirty-three years old, an unpredictable, seemingly ‘sulky’, prolific songwriter, and singer. Despite, selling out gigs worldwide, and working with some very popular artists he is still not commercially well known, at least in Britain. To categorise Ryan Adams is pretty much impossible. His early albums were seen as alternative country, his later ones, perhaps possess a more ‘rock-ish’ edge to them. Still, each of his albums with, and without the band are extremely versatile in style and lyrics. Notably, ‘Cardinology’, their new album seems more influenced by rock, than earlier Cardinal albums like their 2007 offering ‘Cold Roses’. Country/alternative/alternative-rock/alternative-country, it doesn’t matter when it comes down to the music. Ryan Adams is perhaps one of the best songwriters America has ever seen, an inexhaustible, energetic performer, and his voice teamed with a fantastically talented group of musicians like The Cardinals is just about perfect. Or perfect, in a music world where, lets face it, bands can ‘make it big’ without any discernible talent.
On Friday night, the band came on to rapturous cheers. There was no support band, why would they need one? Adams is insignificant in stature, physically small with black hair and large glasses, his significance is in presence, individuality and performance. The rest of the band lack the arrogance of the ‘rock’ bands of the ‘Facebook generation’. Their style is unpretentious. As a fan, would I have preferred a more acoustic based set, with less long, loud, guitar solos? The answer is yes, but as you come to accept at gigs, musicians are not puppets. Some fans forget this. The Cardinals are not crowd pleasers, in that they basically ignored drunken shout outs for Adams’ earlier, more popular songs and get on with the music. The band were charming, in their own way. The set was long, some of the songs less impressive than others. Fans seemed disappointed that the band did not play some of the more well known songs. This was slightly sad, but you have to appreciate things for what they are and not what they might have been. Plus, the guitar playing was outstanding, and the energy exhibited by all members of the band is admirable when you consider how long the band have been touring, and the sheer volume of music Ryan and the band have produced in their careers. Still, The Cardinals have played better gigs in their lifetime, where Adam’s voice can actually be heard, where there is a better connection with the audience, and lengthy guitar jams weren’t quite so prominent.
There was a variety of people at the gig, some older fans, fans who come because they appreciate the music, couples, and young, moody male groupies. As Adams’ himself said, there is always one person, or a couple of people who ruin the music for others. I was standing next to someone like this who I hate to call a ‘ned’ but yes, they fitted the profile. I wouldn’t have been quite so miffed if the fellow hadn’t interrupted a divine cover of ‘Wonderwall’ and ‘Come Pick Me Up.’
In October, Adams said in an interview: “The stuff we [The Cardinals] do communally is 10 times better than the stuff I come up with.” Anybody, who has listened to much of Adams’ solo albums, like ‘29’ may beg to differ with his modesty. Nevertheless, The Cardinals cohesively work, this is obvious when you see them perform together. Over the years, the press have made unnecessary noise over Adams’ apparent ‘petulance’, his fallouts with his record label and his alcohol and drug issues, seemingly now resolved. Yet, when you listen to the band, no such gossip is ever relevant. The term ‘good old fashioned music’ comes to mind.
Cardinology is out now.