Ryan Adams has sparked both devotion and derision across his 17-year path as a prolific solo artist who’s left sensitive and swaggering alt-country, garage-punk, Grateful Dead-rooted sprawl and even a Taylor Swift cover album in his mercurial wake. He’s survived drugs, divorce and a reputation for onstage disruptions. He once ejected a fan for shouting a BRYAN Adams request and he’ll stop shows if people take flash photos that trigger his inner-ear disorder Meniere’s disease.
But all that stuff was in the past on Wednesday as a pumped, even cheery Adams delivered a magnificent set to grace the opening week of Blue Hills Bank Pavilion. “This town’s been good to me, even when I was no good,” he said in thanks to the packed crowd before closing his near-two-hour show with “Come Pick Me Up.”
But his good mood was evident well before that. The North Carolina native clearly channeled Neil Young’s Crazy Horse from the outset, playing huge riffs in front of huge fake amps that served as props along with TVs and stuffed tigers as he lit into “Do You Still Love Me?” and “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High).” Despite a chilly spring night on the waterfront, by the fifth song, Adams doffed his denim jacket for only a cartoon-cat T-shirt as he spit shards of electric guitar in “Dirty Rain.”
The newer “Outbound Train” and a slashing “Doomsday” (with Adams jumping up and down in anticipation before the first note) favored chordal squalls, a sound that started to wear by night’s end. But Adams mixed it up, singing solo acoustic versions of “Prisoner,” “My Winding Wheel” and harmonica-laced “New York, New York.” He crooned a spooky, sincere cover of Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and a lovely “When the Stars Go Blue” to twinkling blue stars on the backdrop, while cranking out “Magnolia Mountain” and “Sweet Illusions” by his former band the Cardinals. And set-closer “Shakedown on 9th Street” was literally smoking, both from billowing stage fog and Adams pacing and waving his guitar as he played.
One T-shirt at the merchandise stand said “Ryan Adams: Sad and Loud.” The sad part wasn’t so evident on Wednesday, but he certainly made a loud statement.