Ryan Adams Rocks the Sonar

Ryan Adams & the Cardinals


The Sonar

Baltimore, MD


Ryan Adams doesn’t get a whole lot of time to himself once he arrives to a venue.  The singer-songwriter, self dubbed on “the edge of alt-country,” sits beneath the seat of his piano, left of center stage, legs extended, in silence.  There is a peaceful aura surrounding the often times volatile 31 year-old rocker.  

He takes a moment to stretch as if getting ready to run a marathon, and continues to work on the evening’s setlist.  It is one of the few moments of solitude he will get before 2,000 adoring fans pour inside.

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Outside, the line has stretched around the block of East Saratoga Street, as fans sit and wait for the doors of downtown Baltimore’s club Sonar to open.  The sun’s radiance is beginning to subside, a relief to some in the front who have been waiting in line for two hours. 


Unfortunately, once the first concert-goers enter, they realize that the temperature outside won’t be much different from that inside, as the room begins to fill to its brim.  Sonar looks more like something out of Reservoir Dogs than a concert venue.  There is one bar towards the side of the stage and the former warehouse has zero windows or other means of ventilation to cool itself down (Adams later estimated the temperature to be about ‘1000 degrees’).  By 9:30 it has become difficult to move.


The evening’s performance was the second show of the Cardinals’ summer tour, which will go through August, and conclude with a performance at the mega-festival Lollapalooza in Chicago.


Neal Casal finished his opening set around 10:15.  Adams and the Cardinals took the stage at 10:50, much to the delight of all in attendance.  The quintet features Adams, Casal on guitar, Catherine Popper on bass, Brad Pemberton on drums and John Graboff on the pedal steel guitar. 


The set opened with “Peaceful Valley,” a standout track from the band’s Jacksonville City Nights.  The recognizable opening note progression of the popular “Let It Ride” followed, and the show’s momentum began to grow.  Magnolia Mountain,” the first track from Cold Roses, one of three albums released by Adams in 2005, was next, and it seemed that Adams and the Cardinals had yet to even take a deep breath.


For a moment, things slowed down, and Adams swooned during a beautiful rendition of “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” but things picked quickly back up for “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” and “Winding Wheel,” the third of three consecutive tracks from the 2000 release Heartbreaker. 


“Love is Hell” and “Please Do Not Let Me Go,” followed.  By this point, Adams is soaked.  His face is almost unrecognizable as his dripping bangs covered all but his mouth, giving him a mysterious look juxtaposed nicely with his black Batman t shirt.


The angst-filled, Rock and Roll opening track, “This Is It” segued nicely into “Tennessee Sucks” and gently into the honest and heartfelt “Dear Chicago,” a confession to a former flame Adams described to Uncut Magazine as falling ‘out of love’ and ‘feeling good about it;’  Being free, ‘for a second.’


The set concluded with “Beautiful Sorta” and “Cherry Lane,” both from Cold Roses.


Set two relied entirely on Jacksonville City Nights, Cold Roses and The Grateful Dead, as Adams and the Cardinals broke only once from the triumvirate, with La Cienga Boulevard, a sad-hearted ballad from the 2001 release Gold.


The last six songs provided the evening’s melodic highlight, as “Trains” began a musical segue sandwich of original tunes meshed with those of The Grateful Dead; a special treat for avid fans and a clear glimpse into one of Adams’ biggest influences.  The Dead’s “Wharf Rat” led into the highly Jerry Garcia- reflective “Cold Roses,” which appropriately meandered into The Dead tune “He’s Gone.”  “Mockingbird,” an Adams original, paved the way for the last dead cover, “Stella Blue,” from the 1973 release Wake of the Flood.


Part of the crowd was in hysterics over the show closing gem they’ve just witnessed and part of the crowd stands shaking their heads, unaware of the musical symbolism Adams had just hung out on the line.  Despite security’s insistence, fans stuck around chanting for an encore, but Adams has already gone fifteen minutes over curfew.  Slowly the crowd starts to file out, half fulfilled and half still chanting for more.