Tiger Beat: Ryan Adams and the Cardinals rocked the Catalyst with songs from the new release 'Easy Tiger.'
Live Is a Gamble
By Don O Marino
HARRY SITUATIONBy the time Harry & The Hit Men set foot on the Bocci's Cellar stage last Friday, they'd already hit a sour note: The six members of this local soul/jam band, all of whom MuZ guesses are unequivocally pro-hemp, started their show two hours and 20 minutes past its scheduled time—on the dot.
The group launched into a free-form, every-man-for-himself noodling session. (Note to band: The reason it's called a "solo" is that it's supposed to be performed by one person at a time.) Adding to the chaos was a demonic crackle coming through the speakers—one that would proceed to haunt the band's entire set like the vengeful ghost of a Rice Krispies elf.
Happily, the Hit Men quickly found their groove, in spite of the best efforts of some seriously cranky equipment. The group's shtick—putting a jam-band glaze on soul/Motown ditties like "You Keep Me Hangin' On" and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered"—is a cool idea, and some of their playing at Bocci's wasn't bad, especially when three band members traded their usual instruments—keyboard, harmonica and guitar—for a couple of trombones and a trumpet. With some more on-target lead vocals, fewer sonic pile-ups during the improv sections and a hell of a lot more sensitivity to the audience's boredom threshold (read: start on time; wait until you've played more than a couple songs before taking a lengthy break), they might have a show worth waiting for.
Let's give Ryan Adams his due: The guy sweats good songs out of his armpits, and music as honest and penetrating as his can only be made by someone who's living life to the hilt. What's more, his Catalyst gig was loaded with classy touches: four-part vocal harmonies, mournful pedal steel playing, a lavish backdrop featuring Japanese lanterns and snazzy colored lights, etc.
That said, much of this North Carolina alt-country singer/songwriter's material wasn't particularly well suited to the atmospherics of a packed nightclub. Hearing him attempt more intimate tunes like "I Taught Myself How to Grow Old" and"Oh My God, Whatever, Etc." (both from the just-released Easy Tiger) was like watching someone try to whisper sweet nothings into his lover's ear in the midst of a Super Bowl party.
Mind you, this wasn't any sort of failure on the part of Adams or his band, The Cardinals, whose combined efforts came off as a best-case amalgamation of the Grateful Dead, Neil Young, John Prine, Dylan, CS&N and the Eagles. Adams sounded powerful and sincere as he steered the group through two full sets that culled liberally from the Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights albums. Decked out in a black T-shirt and gleefully tacky plaid pants, the unassuming frontman, who'd just recovered from a wrist injury from a skateboarding mishap, celebrated his newly regained ability to play guitar by peppering the show with a surplus of extended instrumental jams. Still, the din of the wall-to-wall crowd gobbled up many of the music's finer nuances, and Adams' lyrics—a crucial component of his songs—were largely indistinguishable throughout the show. For die-hard fans, this concert may have been a transcendent experience, but more casual listeners who skipped the show probably didn't miss much that they can't get from the live cuts on Adams' forthcoming box set.
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