Ryan Adams – Brady Music Center
yan Adams took a seat on a stage lit only with household lamps, no stage lights whatsoever. Not only were there no stage lights, but there were also no concessions being sold in the performance room of the venue, with drinks only being available at bars on the concourses and hallways. While it was undoubtedly done to minimize the effects of his Meniere's disease, which can be exacerbated by bright and flashing lights.
The lack of extraneous lights and commotion did create a very intimate atmosphere as Adams set off on a 36-song, 3-hour odyssey that included songs from throughout his career, a tongue-in-cheek cover of Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ’69.” The set also had crowd favorites “My Winding Wheel,” “New York, New York,” and “Come Pick Me Up,” as well as earnest covers of Johnny Cash’s “I Still Miss Someone,” Bob Mould’s “Black Sheets of Rain,” Alice In Chains’ “Down In A Hole,” and Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.” Throughout the set, the charm that made him a critical darling for years and the toxicity he is well known for were on display as he told stories and harangued concertgoers whose cameras flashed.
Sober now for more than a year, Adams’ voice sounded better than I’ve ever heard live. Objectively speaking, it was a good show, but it would be impossible to review a Ryan Adams show without addressing the elephant in the room. In 2019 the New York Times published an article detailing sexual misconduct allegations from several women. Since the allegations, Adams offered only the most anemic of apologies and has avoided addressing them almost entirely. It had not exactly been a secret that Adams could be difficult. However, these accusations felt different. As a fan, I struggled to reconcile my love of his music with these allegations of sexual misconduct. Could I separate the art from the artist? Did I even want to?
I stopped listening to his music, not just because I didn’t want to support an alleged serial abuser, but because the lyrics were harder to make sense of in the current context. What always set Adams apart for me was his songwriting, but listening to sad songs about unrequited love sung by a man who allegedly dangled success in front of women to manipulate them feels wrong. So, here I sit at this concert, attempting to reconcile my allyship in the fight against misogyny with my love for the music of a man accused of horrible acts.
I’m not anti-woke or anti-cancellation. Quite the contrary. I believe that people should experience the consequences of their actions and that the “Me Too” movement was a long overdue move toward equity, especially in the entertainment industry. The difficult question for me is whether or not an artist (or any person, for that matter) is redeemable. Artists like Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Jimmy Page have weathered accusations with their legacies only minimally tarnished as their songs are regularly listened to without a second thought. Listening to Adams’s lyrics through the lens of the past few years, I no longer see him as the lonely victim of unrequited love he often paints himself as, but as a man with no one to blame for his loneliness but himself.
Does that mean I can listen to his music again with a clear conscience? I’m still not so sure. It still feels weird.
What’s clear to me is that after nearly 3 years of not listening to his music, my love for the songs has not diminished, even if my feelings toward the man are more complicated.