What happened on the road to Splendour in the Grass
It was a moment that cut me but I tried so hard not to show it. In 2007 on a fine Saturday morning we walked along Ewingsdale Road to Belongil Fields for Splendour in the Grass.
A car full of mouthy Gen Y guys spluttered past and one of them took a look at my grey hair and shouted: “I bet you’re going to see the Finn brothers.” Old rock and roll fans hate being reminded of their oldness and to be typecast by a bunch of young ones who weren’t even thought of when the Rolling Stones put Let it Bleed on vinyl does make us bleed.
This is especially so when in fact we were not setting out to take in the musical genius of Tim and Neil Finn but hanging out for a dose of the equally young upstart, Ryan Adams.
The irony of the story was that Adams put in a shocker – he was moody, shitty, annoying and stormed off stage after turning his back on the audience and whinging about the sound – while those Finn guys were the stars of the show, rolling out hit after hit and giving it 120 per cent. Those Gen Y guys were on to something.
Adams in back in Australia in a few weeks, touring without a band and boosting his latest – and close to finest – album, Ashes and Fire. Adams has figured large in my musical life since late January, 2002 when I saw him and his then band, the Sweetheart Revolution, play the Metro in Sydney – a three hour from-the-heart songfest that finished at close to 1am and had me awake until past three as I wondered if this was like seeing Springsteen in 1972.
From the moment he cried the first stanza of Someday, Somehow – “I want to tell you something/That I should’ve long ago/I wish that you and I had those kids/Maybe bought us that home” – I was captivated by a songwriter of great talent with that classic American alternative country vocal, finely balanced between tears and joy.
That night he rolled out a swag of the best songs of our generation – Touch, Feel & Lose, To Be Young, My Winding Wheel were just three – and had a genuine kick out the jams band rocking like it was 1958, especially when he added Keith and Mick’s Brown Sugar for good luck. Apart from that bitterly disappointing Belongil Fields appearance, I saw Adams again at the Tivoli in Brisbane where he charged through so many great songs that a friend posed the question the next morning: “Do you think he’s just too good?”
This time he’s playing fancy theatres solo but the tour holds great promise because of the strength of Ashes and Fire. He is probably everything people say about him – he’s self absorbed, arrogant and petulant – and he still treats people like dirt (just Google Ryan Adams and Neil Finn and London BBC and see what I mean) but you can’t go past his song writing powers. After a brief “I’m going to do something else” respite from music (during which he managed a heavy metal album, a couple of novellas and a double CD set!), Adams returned to his very best with his 13th studio album, produced by the legendary Glyn Johns – the Beatles, Stones et al knob twiddler who about to inducted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Using the less is more guitar technique first seen on Heartbreaker and reprised on Jacksonville City Lights, there’s magic in these slight songs. Hardly any are fully formed, resting on a collection of observations that soar without letting us in on all the secrets they hold. The band, the trusty Cardinals, is made even richer with the addition of Tom Petty’s keys man, the ivory genius Benmont Trench. Every song is top drawer stuff but at conveniently punctuated intervals he nails something so beautifully you want to weep joy. Do I Wait, Rocks, Save Me and the title track are standouts for this fan.
The standout of the standouts is a tribute to the Cardinals late bassist, the habit hobbled and crushed Chris Feinstein. “Waiting outside while you find your keys/Like bags of trash in the blackening snow/City of neon and toes that freeze/We got nothing and nowhere to go/We got nothing and nowhere,” he sings. With an album like this under his arm, you just have to believe his tour will be more Metro, 2002 than Belongil, 2007.
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