Live Review: Ryan Adams with Natalie Prass at the Rialto Theatre, Tucson, AZ – 21st April 2015

By on Tuesday, 28th April 2015 at 2:00 pm

During my tenure here at TGTF, I’ve twice been able to attend the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, TX, and probably the best part of that experience has been discovering new artists that I might otherwise never have heard. Last Tuesday night, I had the opportunity to follow up on one of my new finds from SXSW 2015, as American singer/songwriter Natalie Prass opened for veteran rocker Ryan Adams at Tucson’s Rialto Theatre.

I had never attended a show at this venue before, but neither of the artists on the bill was a stranger to the Rialto stage. Adams had graced the stage previously in 2008 with his band The Cardinals and Prass appeared here as Jenny Lewis’ keyboard player last year. Adams and Prass have spent the first part of 2015 touring together through Europe and the UK as well as in America, and they have grown comfortable enough to play a few cheeky covers of each other’s songs during the current tour cycle. Adams even donned a full costume and filled in for Prass when flight delays caused her to miss their show in Copenhagen in March.

I saw Prass’ set at Maggie Mae’s on a whim at SXSW 2015 a couple of weeks after that ill-fated Copenhagen show, and I was excited to see her opening set at the Rialto, but as fate would have it, she faced a similarly challenging situation in Tucson on the night. After playing her first song in solo fashion, Prass related to the audience that her band had gotten stuck on the road with bus trouble. She did, however, have a few friends on hand who were able to step in. Keyboard player Daniel Clarke, who also played keys on Prass’ self-titled debut solo album, came onto the stage to accompany her, and he was soon joined by the other members of Adams’ touring band, including “Spaceman Adams” himself on the drum kit. Prass said that they had been cramming on the bus, listening to her record in order to learn the parts. If that was truly the case, they did their jobs admirably, playing a nearly seamless set that allowed Prass’ sultry singing voice and country-noir songwriting craftsmanship to take center stage.

For Adams’ headline set, he stage was decorated with vintage arcade game and vending machines, along with symbolic representations of Adams’ previous album titles, including a stuffed tiger for ‘Easy Tiger’, a glass smoke machine for ‘Ashes & Fire’, and an American flag for ‘Gold’. His current self-titled solo album, number ten in his extensive discography, was presumably represented by the man himself, and he opened with its hit single ‘Gimme Something Good’. I was familiar with this track already, having heard it on the radio here in America, and while the guitar riff is hot on the recording, it doesn’t even hold a candle to the scorching impact it makes in live performance. While Adams’ older tracks have a more alt-country flavour, his guitar skills leave no doubt about the rock aspect of his music, and the most effective tracks in the set list were the ones where Adams let loose with amazing guitar solos.

Surprisingly, Adams didn’t play as many songs from his new album as I expected, but he touched on it most notably with the slow burning ‘Kim’. He played through most of the show without any banter between songs, which allowed his songs to do the talking, and up to that point I was completely mesmerised. When Adams did finally stop to chat and catch his breath, he wryly taunted the crowd for taking photos and watching the show through their smartphones, which I must admit did register a slight pang of guilt in the back of my mind. On a more good-humoured note, he also pointed out a woman wearing her sunglasses inside the dark venue, speculating that she was either hiding tears after Prass’ lovelorn set or that she was possibly high. This led to a lengthy tangent about eating boxed macaroni and cheese seasoned with instant onion soup; I’ll leave you to imagine how those things might be related.

Getting back to the music, Adams responded to a shouted request from the crowd by playing a thrash metal number I didn’t recognize. The song was received with great applause, and I found out later that it was a version of ’16 Days’, from Adams’ former band Whiskeytown. For my money, Adams’ decision to stay on stage and play straight through the set rather than taking the obligatory encore break was most welcome, and he wisely took advantage of Prass’ presence on the tour by bringing her back to the stage for vocals on ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and ‘When the Stars Go Blue’. At the end of the night, after having forgotten to introduce the aforementioned Daniel Clarke as part of the band, Adams proceeded to invent an entire song centered around Clarke while the other band members gamely jammed along.

I came away from the show with a slew of new songs buzzing through my head, and I stopped at the merch table outside to pick up both Adams’ and Prass’ latest CDs. I was already a fan of Natalie Prass after her charming SXSW performance, and she didn’t disappoint in Tucson, even with her somewhat impromptu band arrangement. I was only a casual fan of Ryan Adams previously, having listened to his songs in passing on the radio and after hearing other artists such as The Young Folk name him as an influence on their songwriting. I was impressed enough to amass a collection of his music during my road trip to Los Angeles the following weekend, and his 2001 album ‘Gold’ became a fast favourite on the long drive home through the desert. Better late to the game than never!

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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