The road to rock and roll is littered with burned-out carcasses picked clean by rodents such as myself. Happily, despite whatever alchemy of stardom and personal prickliness may have been at work on Ryan Adams in his earlier years, and may very well still be, Saturday's show at the Auditorium Theatre suggests that he has successfully escaped that fate.
A troublesome monitor — the equipment that enables a hard-rocking band to hear what everyone else is playing — might have given Adams fits in the old days. But four songs into the Auditorium Theatre show, he merely paused while it was tended to, revealing only the slightest irritation. "I could have been doing a Diana Ross song," Adams joked, leading to a meandering, intra-band chat about the Supremes, with Adams imitating Ross with outstretched arms singing in a Central Park rainstorm.
Opening with a brand-new song, "Cobwebs," Adams and his backing band, the Cardinals, filled the hall of 1,500 with a chiming, thundering wall of rock. The pedal-steel guitar was the most-obvious nod to the alt-country sound of Adams' old band, Whiskeytown. Otherwise, he chooses not to visit that place anymore.
Murkiness pervaded the stage, which was adorned with only two neon roses and a large symbol behind the drum kit, kind of a stylized cardinal as peace sign, holding up what appears to be the old gong from Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Adams himself looked very rockish in black leather and his black framed intellectual-geek glasses.
Although things got a bit jammy midway through the set, on songs like "Two," from his album Easy Tiger, Adams sang of how "I've got a really good heart, I just can't catch a break." This guy's a serious writer. And Adams is not beyond a little rock and roll theatrics. His leather jacket, which had come off after "Cobwebs," made a return for a dramatic rendering of "The Sun Also Sets," with Adams emoting and hanging onto the microphone stand like a desperate soul singer.
Adams was notorious for erratic behavior over the years, often petulant, storming off the stage, sometimes drunk. It destroyed the magnificent Whiskeytown. The money you laid down for a ticket to a Ryan was a gamble. But he's supposedly straightened out. If so, the result is marvelous, with Adams' superb, heartfelt tenor working wonders.
Adams' most-infamous episode of whack-job came a few years back, when a fellow jokingly bellowed "Play 'Summer of '69,'" the Bryan Adams hit. Agitated, Ryan Adams stormed into the audience, flipped some cash at the guy to cover the cost of his ticket, and demanded that he leave.
As a sign of his maturity, when someone shouted "Freebird" between songs on Saturday night, Adams stayed put onstage. Surprising, because I'm pretty sure he knows that one.