Ryan Adams and the Cardinals: The Pageant, St. Louis, MO 10/05/07

The news surrounding Ryan Adams in 2007 has been significant.   Along with the release of Easy Tiger, an album that he recorded with his band, The Cardinals, Adams, long known for hitting the bottle hard, announced that he had been clean and sober for over a year.  For a guy who’s practically known by some only because of his drunken antics—on and off stage—a drug-free life was big news for the future development of the musician from Jacksonville, North Carolina, generally regarded as one of the better living American songwriters.  But what would happen to his post-drug creativity?  Would his songs or live shows suffer or become better?

With only caffeine being the drug still on the menu, Adams proved that you can take away the booze, speed balls, and nicotine (Adams quit smoking several days before the show), but can’t take away the crazy.  That stays.

Playing to a sold-out St. Louis audience, Adams stormed out of the gate with unique energy; the opening trio of “Peaceful Valley,” “Beautiful Sorta,” and “The Rescue Blues” played to The Cardinals’ strengths: smooth jams, beautiful harmonies, and striking melody.  An awesome argument to say no to drugs.

But somewhere around the middle of the show, perhaps when a selfish drunk in the crowd yelled out “Summer of ‘74” (the year Adams was born), “Is that really Diet Coke?”, “We love you when you’re sober”, or “It’s ok to be successful!”, Adams lost his spark, and after rushed performances of “Two” and “Everybody Knows,” he took an impromptu 15-minute break that even had his band mates confused. 

The intermission couldn’t have come at a worse time for a simple reason: on this night at The Pageant, the bar serving the main floor was shut down at show time, forcing drinks to be purchased upstairs near the balcony or outside at the adjoining Halo Bar.  Conversations began, lines started forming, and the main floor began to empty—setting a stage for Adams to have no choice but to turn up his amp and rock away the alcohol-induced chatter. 

Except that didn’t happen.   “What Sin”, a 13-minute unreleased jam session, led off the quiet second set that never recaptured the magic that opened the show.  The inspiring moments—the gentle “Wildflowers” and “Please Do Not Let Me Go”—were overshadowed by a loud crowd that acted like they were at a Cardinals baseball game, not a Cardinals concert.  And by the end of the closing “I See Monsters”, you could tell Adams had had enough, mostly by his sarcastic comments to the crowd that they were “very respectful” and that they were “probably the best crowd this tour.”  Memo to St. Louis concertgoers next time Adams’ bus rolls into town:  Easy, tigers.

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