Sunday afternoon I headed over to Gallagher Park to catch the Sunday night mainstage performances of the Edmonton Folk Fest. The performers for the night were slated to be, in order, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, Alison Krauss & Union Station, and John Prine. I was also supposed to meet Stefan and Taylor down there, but none of these things ended up quite happening. Prine wanted to catch the redeye out, so he switched with Krauss, and neither Stefan nor Taylor gave me a cell number to contact them at like we had agreed. While I was trying to find a seat, I ran into Dave and his girlfriend, so I just sat with the Mahoods all evening.
Adams came on fairly promptly, and gave a pretty exciting set. Fresh from performing with Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh last month, Adams' music all seemed to be coming out of that kind of filter, to great effect. Hearing old songs with a new sound was the best part of the show; "Shakedown on 9th Street," a longtime favourite of mine, still retained its ragged country punk vibe, but was extended to a marvelous length more than double that of its studio length. "Please Do Not Let Me Go," a favourite off his Love is Hell album, was transformed from a stripped-down acoustic affair into a slow but rollicking plugged-in number. "To Be Young (Is to be Sad, Is to be High)" gained new life as a bluesy affair. His set was heavy in songs from his upcoming September 27th release September, so it was interesting to get a sneak listen to these before the album release. Catherine Popper was great on bass, as was Jon Graboff on steel guitar. Brad Pemberton, the drummer, was better than I've ever heard him before, especially the rollicking drums on "Shakedown on 9th Street." Electric Guitarist JP Browersock was missing from the lineup, which forced Adams to play better than he has on previous albums. For once, he was able to handle the extended solos and jamming that he's previously let JP handle. He closed the set with a great rendition of a Sonic Youth classic, "Expressway to Yr Skull," complete with a jam that Thurston would have been proud of.
Between songs, Adams was the bizarre, manic, and rather amusing peformer that fans have become accustomed to. He pretended to give an announcement about a parked car, commented on how if he knew the colour theme this year was orange he would have "slipped some oranges... into the morphine," and introduced a song written in 2000 as something he wrote 8 years before his birth, something that had a baby Bob Dylan mumbling accolades about.
Yeah. For the record, Dave did ask me if I "knew he was crazy before [I] came."
He made a joke pretending to mistake the folkfest for Glastonbury, a show he was supposed to close at over a month ago, but was forced to miss because of illness. He then took on an English accent and made fun of soccer hooligans, later apologizing for it. "I wasn't trying to make fun of England... just English people... Just think, if I do this twice more I won't ever have to go overseas again." Some critics are right, he didn't try to engage the audience with banter the same way Prine or Krauss did. Instead, he just mumbled a little and then went back to a splendid performance. Can you blame him?
As marvelous as the set was for a fan, however, Adams may not have been the best pick for the FolkFest crowd, a crowd perhaps not as interested in alt-country infused with Grateful Dead psychadelia as they were with stripped-down folk or bluegrass. To get people interested in it, a later set time may have been better. Just after 6, folks with evening tickets were still filtering in and trying to find seats. Many weekend passholders were still getting food, beer, or coming back from the sidestages, as I found out by talking to people. Mr. and Mrs. Mahood hadn't heard of Adams, they said, so they stayed in the beer tent for his set. Would they have come back sooner for somebody like Prine, with a more established reputation amongst older age groups? Perhaps. Dave admitted that he almost never really pays attention to the first act of the evening. By the time Prine came out, it was starting to get dark, you could actually see the performers on stage since they weren't buried in shadows, and everybody was back at their tarps with their food. Perhaps Adams partially got caught in a transition period, or maybe I'm just making excuses for a performance that I thought was amazing by a performer I adore. Just don't read the Edmonton Journal review. As much as Ms. Sperounes congratulates Adams for a well-performed set, she also focusses a lot more on the kinds of speculations that may have been more appropriate before the show, speculations based on his tempestuous past that somebody not familar with Adams might overindulge themselves on. For a far better story on Adams, read his two Pitchfork interviews, from 2004 and 2005, respectively. They give a far better view of Adams than Ms. Sperounes, who at best seems to be vaguely familiar with the idea of there being a Ryan Adams.
This post is long enough, so I'll review Prine and Krauss' excellent sets tomorrow. But first, in all my fanboyish glory, the setlist:
1. A Kiss Before I Go
2. Peaceful Valley
3. To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
4. Beautiful Sorta
5. What Sin Replaces Love
6. The End
7. Shakedown on 9th Street
8. Please Do Not Let Me Go
9. Madonna, Sean and Me / Expressway to Yr. Skull (Sonic Youth cover)