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Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

Aug 27

Written by:
8/27/2007 4:03 PM  RssIcon

Those of you who've been with CLUAS for a while may remember that I was an Adams evangeliser. I reviewed his first two solo records for these hallowed pages - Heartbreaker and Gold. These records, alongside the final Whiskeytown album Pneumonia, represented Adams at his most vibrant and vital. Acclaim was immediate and fulsome. Over time, Gold has tarnished but the other two represent an early 21st Centuty zenith in singer songwriting. The stage seemed set for Adams to achieve superstardom. 

Except things have not gone quite according to plan. Adams has dated famous actresses, developed a proper drug habit, fallen off stage. All the while, he’s been churning out album after album. Five official album releases later (13 unofficial releases streamed from his website) and Adams’ latest, the rather excellent Easy Tiger, has been met with a collective shoulder shrug from most music critics. Another Adams record stuffed with plaintive melodies, country-rock leanings, sad songs about sad girls…

Yet Adams has remained a big live draw. Playing two Enmore Theatre shows in a row has demonstrated his marketability here in Sydney. Having seen him play three times before, each one being a dramatic and memorable night, I was excited. The band trotted onstage in almost darkness and played in the blue hue of a few Chinese lanterns over the centre of the stage. Calls of "Turn the lights up!" started almost immediately. The crowd murmured as Adams kicked into Goodnight Rose, the lovely opener from Easy Tiger. I could not pick where Adams was standing onstage. The gloom was distracting but the band’s sound was clear, chunky and strong. Adams was in fine voice. Over the years, his voice has definitely improved. Dear John was an obvious early highlight as was Wild Flower from Gold. Intricate melodies delicately played and sung.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it all went horribly wrong. I could point at the band which seemed to play at the same intensity all evening. That’s not to say that weren’t competent. Just that without light or a focal point on stage, the music was found lacking. And there were too many samey guitar licks. It could have been that Adams let Neal Casal, his lead guitarist, interact with the audience. Adams’ only outburst was to admonish us for "not knowing how to act" as the band took an early intermission. That legendary stroppiness was there in spades. Maybe it was because he played lots of new or obscure songs and the lack of familiarity grated on those of us who know that he has many classics in his back catalogue.

Maybe the effort that Adams clearly demands of his audience is not repaid with interest by him and his band. It was obvious that the calls from the crowd resulted in a set change – did we deserve to be punished? Does this sound familiar?

Even faced with what was clearly a below par gig, the Adams apologists were immediately out en masse. Under the byline ‘Seems Like the Greater They Are, the More You Have to Like It or Lump It’, the Sydney Morning Herald’s chief music critic Bernard Zuel reckoned the show had been Dylanesque in its wilful awkwardness but that it had moments of brilliance. Whilst the article is mostly piffle, does he have the nugget of a good point there?


The debate on this Adams Blog sheds further light on what was an infuriating night. Is an artist being disrespectful to the paying public by being difficult and awkward? Can these recent awful Adams and Rice gigs be attributed to Dylan’s behaviour on his Never Ending tour?


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Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

An Aussie mate of mine once remarked, "why go to see some act that treats you like crap, mate, people should have more self respect and follow acts that dont treat em like they just trod on em". Words to live by. I find your excellent post is a bit let down by fuzzy logic that Dylan is in some way responsible for Adams and Rice's attitude. Bobso has nothing to do with this, those other two are simply twats.

By Rev Jules on   8/27/2007 8:21 AM

Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

But Stephen, you are not drawing parallels, you are making a case that Dylan's behaviour actively influenced that of Rice and Adams. Your final statement asks, "Can these recent awful Adams and Rice gigs be attributed to Dylan’s behaviour on his Never Ending tour?" And the simple answer to that question is no, certainly not on the evidence you provided in your post. Dylan does not have a monopoly on bad gigs. Van The Man knows how to throw one too. Does that make Rice Morrisonesque? No, it doesn't.

By Rev Jules on   8/28/2007 1:08 PM

Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

I think that the very valid point this article is making is to ask to what extent does an artist engage in crowd pleasing and to what extent do they engage in satisfying their own artistic muse (or ego)? On one hand, the artist has an outlook that helps them to create the music that draws you towards them on the other, this same outlook can also lead them to do gigs that make you boil over with fury. Its a tough one.

By Rev Jules on   8/30/2007 2:41 PM

Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

I see your point. And it's a good one. Is Rice Morrisonesque? I suspect he could well be... ;-)

By stephen on   8/28/2007 9:00 PM

Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

Hey Reverend... I do think there are parallels to be drawn. Dylan's wilful abuse of his back catalogue, his refusal to interact with the crowd, the apologist's view that "being in the presence of genius" is enough - all these things are manifest in the recent Rice and Adams' tours. When an audience of paying punters objects to this behaviour, they are dismissed as a "poor crowd". Adams, Rice and indeed Dylan lost fans on their recent Aussie tours. And rightly so.

I don't mind if a show doesn't hit the heights as long as I can see that the artist is at least trying. And I don't need to be a pawn in a game that the artist is playing with the audience - Rice played Cannonball through a voice distorter, Adams played a full 5 minutes of feedback at the end of Easy Plateau (and no encore), Dylan mangled Like A Rolling Stone.

The sooner audiences get off their arses and BOO poor performances, the better.

By stephen on   8/27/2007 4:10 PM

Re: Ryan Adams - is it all Dylan's fault?

I think Stephen has a fair point insofar as Dylan is the role model for the myth of genius that turns goodtime pop and folk and rock'n'roll into ponderous, overserious, sweaty, pretentious, navel-gazing singer-songer-stuff. Dylan is the prototype of all those self-important singers who preach politics and write 'poetry' and pontificate about keeping it real and not selling out to The Man. And that includes putting on concerts where you act like a tormented genius and demand hushed, genuflecting adoration from the punters. I don't like Dylan's music or anything he represents.

By aidan on   8/29/2007 3:50 AM