Ryan Adams made a triumphant return to the Austin City Limits stage last night playing a quiet, soulful acoustic set followed by a rocking electric set keeping fans on their feet for over two hours. Tonight’s taping was two shows for the price of one.
In perfect contrast to the nature of the first set, Adams hit the stage in a Dag Nasty T-shirt and a blue jean jacket adorned by punk rock patches before essaying a series of his patented melancholy ballads. He opened with “Oh My Sweet Carolina” from his debut solo album Heartbreaker; while it was originally a duet with Emmylou Harris, it worked just fine solo. Adams alternated between older tunes (“Desire,” “Please Do Not Let Me Go,” “My Winding Wheel”) and songs from his new self-titled LP (“My Wrecking Ball,” “Am I Safe,” “Gimme Something Good”), peppering his tales of disappointment and heartbreak with enough snappy patter to make Spider-Man proud. He ended the solo set with a particularly affecting “If I Was a Stranger” and a ramshackle romp through Bryan Adams’ “Run To You,” leaving the audience in both tears and stitches.
With a stage festooned with a fake giant amp, a golden skull, an American flag with a peace symbol, a stuffed tiger and a video game console loaded with 80s classics, Adams and his new band the Shining arrived and launched into a fully-amplified version of “Gimme Something Good,” making the title a demand instead of a plea. Expertly backed by his quartet (which included Mike Viola, the voice of “That Thing You Do”), Adams followed the same pattern as the acoustic set, moving back and forth between new tunes and old favorites. Recent songs like the Stonesy rocker “Stay With Me,” the dramatic rock ballads “Do I Wait” and “Dirty Rain” and the atmospheric noisemaker “Shadows” were greeted with the same enthusiasm as older set pieces like the pretty folk popper “La Cienega Just Smiled,” the sad country lament “Dear Chicago” and the rousing anthem “New York New York.”
The show came to a head near the end, with a medley of “Rats in the Walls” and “When the Summer Ends,” a pair of brief tunes from his recent 1984 EP, and the mood-swinging dynamics of the charged “I See Monsters” from Love is Hell. Adams ended the show where he began, revisiting his solo debut Heartbreaker for the profane country kiss off “Come Pick Me Up,” at which the audience cheered as soon as he played its opening harmonica lick. It was a sprawling, wide-ranging trip through Adams’ musical mind, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it broadcasts on PBS early next year. Stay tuned.