The Prodigal Son, Ryan Adams, Returns to Santa Cruz a Changed Man
Ryan Adams opened his sold-out show at the Rio Theatre on Monday, Oct. 17, with “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” off his 2001 release, Heartbreaker. It seemed symbolic as he sang, “I gambled up my life,” with a voice that has never been clearer. Watching Adams sip from a mug of tea and rummage through a binder of dog-eared songs on stage, proved the rumors are true: Adams—known by many for his drug and alcohol abuse—is a new man.
In a faded black heavy metal shirt and jeans, Adams played a solo 23-song acoustic set and three-song encore in support of his latest album, Ashes & Fire (see GT Feature). Over the course of the three-hour performance, Adams told rambling stories and made (some confusing) analogies. When early guitar tuning issues interrupted the flow, he cracked jokes about “syncopated dancing ninjas” and concern for the pyrotechnics going off at the right time. “There’s a ray of seriousness coming out of my palm that only I can see,” Adams said, with the ease of someone playing an intimate house show.
Adams’ voice was flawless and insistent when paired with sharp guitar work for “If I am a Stranger.” Then, his thick piano chords and trademark longing took precedence on “Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st)” off Heartbreaker. Opener Jason Isbell lent harmonies and subtle lead guitar on closing track “Come Pick Me Up,” for a perfectly rich sound.
Not even a drunk fan ranting from the audience could derail him from a triumphant performance. Adams humored and baited, then commented, “You’re the reason I make music.” And the show went on.
Toward the end of the set, Adams joked, “Ride the wave of disappointment with me, come on.” Yet, the only real disappointment was that the evening had to end.
Photo: David Black