Songwriter Ryan Adams performs smoking set at Lied

Ryan Adams' concert at the Lied Center Wednesday was a dry show, but the theme of the night was booze.

You could almost smell bourbon coming out of the speakers.

Adams, former frontman for the band Whiskeytown, recently recovered from a broken wrist, which he injured after falling off a stage in Liverpool. He said during Wednesday's performance that the injury was a blessing because his limited physical ability allowed him to "play drunk" when he was sober. The alternative-country singer, who turned 30 last Friday, has built his persona on being, in his words, a drunken weirdo.

"I'm naturally (expletive) up. The booze just enhances it," Adams proclaimed to the crowd.

Adams certainly looked the part. With his rat's nest hair, brown jacket and loosened tie, he had the "I couldn't care less" look down. The stage was modestly backlit so the audience rarely caught a glimpse of Adams' face, which didn't seem to bother him. The stage decor included helium balloons, a starry background and Christmas lights wrapped around the microphone. The concept seemed to be "high school dance."

Along with the look, Adams had the attitude. He obviously wasn't bothered by Lied Center rules. Few artists pound drinks and chain-smoke in Lawrence's most proper venue.

Of the two-and-a-half hour set, about 90 minutes was music. The rest was occupied by Adams chatting with his new band, the Cardinals, bantering with the audience or just rambling (he spent at least five minutes talking about an emotional experience he had with a bowl of soup at Milton's).

The moody, self-deprecating singer's talent for incoherence was exceeded only by his musical ability. On Wednesday, he demonstrated why his voice, guitar playing and songwriting have garnered him so much attention the past few years. (Why actress Parker Posey is dating him is still a mystery).

He showcased songs from his Whiskeytown days up to his new release, "Love is Hell," and everything in between. He played plenty from his earlier albums "Heartbreaker" and "Gold," including "To Be Young," "Stars Go Blue," "La Cienega" and "Come Pick Me Up."

The performance was extremely informal. It was like watching a band practice in a parents' garage. Adams had no qualms about stopping in the middle of a song and either telling his bandmates how they botched it or simply moving on to another tune. On piano, Adams sang a slow, emotional ballad titled, "Jesse Don't Slap Your Penis On That Desk." The joke song referenced a story told by the opening act, punk acoustic guitarist Jesse Malin, about exposing himself while in high school. Malin, a friend and collaborator of Adams, set the tone when he drank from a flask offered to him by an audience member.

The pinnacle of the night came when Adams jammed out a soulful version of Grateful Dead tune "Wharf Rat" to an agape audience. The diverse crowd, which ranged from white, middle-class preppies to white, middle-class hipsters, didn't buy a ticket to hear 10-minute acid jams -- not that Adams cared.


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