MONTCLAIR, NJ—People who stayed home to watch the Academy Awards missed something of an award-winning performance a bit closer to home, as Ryan Adams and the Cardinals brought their tour to Montclair’s refurbished Wellmont Theatre. The newly-engaged Adams (to Mandy Moore) recently announced that this will be his last tour with the Cardinals, citing health issues that require him to take some time off. On the evidence of this show, that’s unfortunate, because the prolific songwriter and his band were in great form, firing on all cylinders during the nearly three hour performance.
From the thunderous opening song, “I See Monsters” from Love Is Hell, Pt. 2, to the rollicking finale, “Magick,” from the recent album Cardinology, the audience for the sold-out show was thoroughly rocked, and demonstrated their enthusiasm accordingly. The Cardinals have a group of hardcore fans who follow them from town to town, and there was more than a little bit of the jam band community vibe in the house, though jamming is clearly secondary for this song-driven band.
The set included three songs from Cardinology. In addition to “Magick,” the more subdued “Two,” and “Fix It” came off very well live. A long-time staple of the set is a cover of the Oasis classic “Wonderwall.” The Cardinals version is far slower than the original, and Adams sings it with such emotion that the desperation in Noel Gallagher’s lyrics becomes much clearer. Another highlight was a personal favorite of mine, the powerful and profane “Come Pick Me Up” from Adams’ 2000 solo debut, Heartbreaker.
After a short set break, the band returned with what Adams called “Connect-4”, which had them powerfully rendering four songs into one long piece, and featured some of the better guitar interplay of the night. This was followed by a rare live performance of “Dear Chicago” from the Demolition album. Other highlights of the second set included a powerful version of “Goodbye Rose,” and an emotion-charged “Oh My Sweet Carolina.”
The Cardinals not only play well, but their vocalizing put me in mind of some of the great ‘70s groups like Poco, the early Eagles, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. Speaking of the ‘70s, it may be heresy to say it at this point, but there’s a really special feeling in the Wellmont that reminds me of the legendary Capitol Theatre in Passaic. Of course the Wellmont crowd was standing up, and if you stood up in the Capitol you would probably have been told to sit down, but other than that one difference, the overall vibe is similar. It’s a very welcome feeling indeed.
Special mention should be made of a local hero, guitarist Neal Casal, who not only provided blistering guitar playing and background vocals for the Cardinals, but took over on lead vocals for a couple of songs, too. This was a homecoming show for the Denville native, and his mother was there to see her son perform with the band for the first time.
Ryan Adams’ reputation as an enfant terrible was nowhere in evidence, and it’s apparent that he’s put that part of his life behind him. He was in great spirits, joking with his band and the audience throughout the show. Perhaps the announcement that this tour will be his last for awhile, plus the happiness in his personal life, have combined to relieve him of the pressure that he bore so heavily for a number of years. Whatever his future may be, and that of the Cardinals, I wish them well.
The Set List
“I See Monsters”
“Let It Ride”
‘Come Pick Me Up”
‘Why Do They Leave”
‘Freeway To The Canyon”
“Oh My God, Whatever Etc.”
“Sun Also Sets”
“Born Into A Light”
“Stars Go Blue”
“Oh My Sweet Carolina”
“A Kiss Before I Go”
“Shakedown on 9th St.”