erasing clouds

Ryan Adams: Like a Firecracker Waiting to Blow

by matthew webber

Ryan Adams and the Pinkhearts, Battery Park, New York, NY, July 4

Everyone is concerned about Ryan Adams' health. The singer/songwriter received six percent of the votes in the recent poll, "Which rock n roll badboy is most likely to perish before the end of 2003?" Adams himself joked during his free 4th of July performance in New York City's Battery Park about his reputation for performing with a hangover and waking up in a hotel room next to empty liquor bottles.

Everybody can quit worrying. If his animated, two-hour set was any indication of his general health, Adams is alive and kicking ass.

The queue to get past security and into the one entrance to the park was long, but any wait was well worth the price of admission. After an energized hour-long opening set by Adams' friend, singer/songwriter Jesse Malin, Adams and his band the Pinkhearts sauntered onto the stage like parade marshals or rock stars, full of self-significance and a seriousness of purpose. They looked rock 'n' roll, especially Adams, who sported a trendy denim jacket, mussed hair, and Unabomber sunglasses. They sounded rock 'n' roll, oozing all of the swagger they could muster.

The crowd at this free outdoor concert no doubt resembled that at any free outdoor concert across America that day. Those who lounged under trees and ate hot dogs seemed indifferent, although some of them clapped politely between songs. Others maybe wondered when he was going to play "Summer of '69." Other people, Adams fans, risked dehydration and sunburn to dance at the foot of the stage and shout Adams' lyrics back to him. Adams played to all of them, marching across the stage like a high school band's drum major and singing as intensely as that drum major twirls a stick. He and his band were as hot as the day; after his set, you could have wrung the sweat from Adams' t-shirt and quenched the thirst of thousands.

Adams tore through songs from his studio albums, as well as songs he seemed to compose onstage. His between-song banter was longer than that of any professional performer I can recall, but also wittier, so the Frisbee-throwers and picnickers got some free comedy in addition to the free music.

On this day, his lyrics from "New York, New York," which he played early in his set, seemed particularly appropriate, and not just because of where he was. As he and his band performed the verse, "I shuffled through the city on the 4th of July / I had a firecracker waiting to blow / Breakin' like a rocket who was makin' its way / To the cities of Mexico," his singing and the Pinkhearts' playing was explosive. Completely alive, Ryan Adams was deserving of his own fireworks show. Or maybe he provided one.

Issue 14, August 2003 | next article

this month's issue
about erasing clouds

Copyright (c) 2005 erasing clouds