Review: Ryan Adams collected and still unpredictable at the Wiltern

Review: Ryan Adams collected and still unpredictable at the Wiltern
Ryan Adams on Wednesday at the Wiltern.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

For a good hour-and-a-half Wednesday night, it looked like the old Ryan Adams wasn’t going to show.

Then something went wrong with the sound system, and all of a sudden there he was: the tempestuous singer-songwriter once known as alt-country’s enfant terrible, a huge talent given to huge tantrums.

Until that point, Adams’ concert at the Wiltern — the first of two dates to end a North American tour behind his new self-titled album — was utterly composed, delivering one handsomely shaggy roots-rock tune after another from a former wild child now married and settled in Los Angeles.

Backed by a sturdy four-piece band that included guitarist Mike Viola (with whom Adams works regularly at his Pax Am studio), the singer pulled from throughout the deep catalog he’s built since 2000, when he released his acclaimed solo debut, “Heartbreaker,” which came after the dissolution of his group, Whiskeytown.


He sang a beautifully stripped-down version of “My Winding Wheel,” from “Heartbreaker.” He did “New York, New York,” his self-consciously anthemic 2001 semi-hit, and “When the Stars Go Blue,” a tender ballad that became a real-deal hit when Tim McGraw covered it in 2006.

And he turned “Cold Roses,” the title track from one of three albums he put out in 2005, into a Grateful Dead-style jam, albeit one that never ventured too far from the song’s neatly harmonized chorus.

Adams spent a sizable portion of the show focusing on “Ryan Adams,” his latest album that presents the singer as a brooding but polished rock star in the vein of Don Henley, Tom Petty or his almost-namesake, Bryan Adams. (No wonder the album just earned a handful of Grammy nominations.)

“Gimme Something Good” had strutting guitars over an unhurried beat; “Stay with Me” was moodier, with an insistent minor-key melody. For “My Wrecking Ball,” Adams gently strummed an acoustic guitar, bringing the room to the kind of attentive hush that he might once have punctured with a joke or a bit of sarcasm.


Here, though, he segued into a deeply relaxed version of “Magnolia Mountain” that grooved like prime Al Green. More of that soulful flavor — slow tempo, loping bass line, an organ sweetly oozing around Adams’ singing — came out in “Dirty Rain,” from his 2011 “Ashes & Fire” album.

And again he quieted the crowd with a very pretty “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” for which he was joined by Jenny Lewis, the smart L.A. pop singer whose new album Adams produced. (Earlier in the show he covered “She’s Not Me,” one of that album’s highlights.)

It was all so assured that you’d almost forgotten about Adams’ unruly reputation by the time the speakers went out.

For a few minutes he seemed eager to move past the technical difficulty. But then a stagehand appeared and whispered something into Adams’ ear: The Wiltern’s “processor” had crashed, the singer reported, which led to a tirade — a small one, but a tirade nonetheless — about our troubled dependence on digital technology.

Visibly frustrated (and why not?), Adams instructed his band to play something from a recent EP of sharp-angled punk songs, which it did with bitter intensity before everyone cleared the stage.

Game over, you figured.

Except then Adams returned, along with Lewis, and together they sang a devastating version of what might be Adams’ most devastating song, “Come Pick Me Up.” It’s about willingly submitting yourself to someone you know will hurt you, someone whose ample charm always comes at a cost.

He may be a long way from those circumstances, but Adams still knows that person. And so do his fans.


Twitter: @mikaelwood

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