That pffffft you heard, and that faint whisp of smoke?
That’s the candle being blown out on this chapter of Ryan Adams’ life. Just like that, the supernova of a songwriter is gone, dissipating into the night.
At times, he wasn’t a candle – he was a flame thrower, an inferno of emotion that scorched the musical landscape with his brilliant music. But, towards the end of his "final" tour, it just didn’t seem to be there any more, the formerly blinding light was barely a flicker.
The last tour, from which Adams removed his name from the marquee, billing it as just The Cardinals, came through Memphis before finally coming to an end two days later in Atlanta. I couldn’t have been more excited, yet this anticipation was tempered by the realization that this COULD be the end, the last chance any of us see the enigmatic musician.
I hadn’t seen the band in several years, since my first live Cardinals experience in 2007 at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre. Frankly, it was a phenomenal show, probably one of my top five ever. The band came out and busted their asses for about an hour and a half. It was all acoustic, all emotion, and frankly, an amazing night. It was also one of the first, if not THE first, time I’ve ever been to a show without an encore. The crowd cheered for about five minutes, and then the lights came up. I was a bit shocked, but having just had my mind blown, I was okay with it. After all, we music fans aren’t guaranteed an encore, but seem to have a sense of entitlement, like it’s our right. But, it’s not.
So, I was prepared for anything when the Cardinals came back to Memphis on March 18. Adams, dealing with Meniere’s disease, is capable of so much on any given night. Electric sets, acoustic sets…who knows what you’ll get. What I did know is that this was the end, having called it quits to move on to the next phase of his life. He’s got a book of poetry on the shelf, and a fiction piece on the way. He just married pop princess Mandy Moore. And, after the Memphis show, he’d be loading his bus, driving to Mobile, Alabama to play, and then to Atlanta, and then off into the sunset.
The Cardinals came out to The Partridge Family’s "Come On Get Happy," which retrospectively seems like Adams trying to psyche himself up for another night on stage, because really, he didn’t seem to be feeling it throughout the whole show. They powered through the first few songs, and by the fourth tune, "Goodnight Rose," finally seemed to be hitting stride.
The band seemed to be in good spirits, even if Ryan himself stood off to the side by himself most of the night, in the dimmer part of the stage. After a few songs, Adams, clearly peeved with his equipment, announced that they were having trouble hearing and would be a taking a short break. He did so politely, telling the sold-out audience that he hoped we understood but they needed to fix the problem. Had Adams not spent 30 minutes during soundcheck playing the drums perhaps the musicians and engineers would have had all this stuff fine-tuned.
After about 15 minutes, the band came back on stage, played seven more songs in 35 minutes, and left without a word. Pedal steel player Jon Graboff’s Facebook page was even updated to read "Leaving Memphis under the cover of night" mere hours after the show.
It’s a little sad that for many of us, this is the last memory we’ll have of a great band. I know that Ryan Adams shows have always had a reputation of being hit or miss, but on the last leg of the last tour, I expected more. I expect an artist to give his fans something to remember him by. A friend of mine was at three shows in the last two weeks of the tour, and proclaimed that she’s "so over him," for much the same reason. Adams just didn’t seem into it, which is a shame.
This could have been his chance to really blow it out. I don’t expect "The Last Waltz," the end-all, be-all of final concerts. But, I expect your heart. I didn’t expect the GPAC show to end without an encore, or so much as a word. But, I felt the band left it all on stage, and I was OK with it.
The 3/18 show, though – I half-expected no encore, but this time I wasn’t OK with it. I don’t feel that I got my fill.
Oddly enough, before the show a female fan told Adams that she "really loved" his music. His response? "Who gives a shit."
It definitely seemed, to me at least, that even the artist himself was not giving as much of a shit as he used to, which sucks. No audience member should ever leave a show of any sort feeling that the band gives anything short of their all. Everyone in any job has off-days, for certain. But to get the impression that a band just mailed it in – that sucks.
Obviously, Ryan Adams doesn’t owe anything to anyone but himself. But, choosing to be a public figure, a rock and roll star, means that you will be under a microscope. And, when you take the stage, the public expects greatness, especially when you’ve delivered it time and again.
Hopefully, this time off stage will rejuvenate Ryan Adams. Hopefully he DOES find his way back to the stage, because when he’s on, there are few better. He has the ability to turn a phrase, to spin tales and to tap emotions like very few in the last few decades. Frankly, musicians like Adams can’t ever walk away completely. The guy writes a song every time he sits down on the toilet, and all that’s inside him will NEED to come out somehow, be it in song, poem, or story.
So, goodbye, Mr. Adams. We hope you come back to the stage. There are some of us who need just a little bit more of you because we want you to put our emotions, how we feel in love, loss, relationships, and heartache into words.