On what would have been Jerry Garcia’s 75th birthday, Americana singer/songwriter Ryan Adams used a sizable chunk of his two-hour concert at the Pageant on Tuesday night to pay tribute to the late Grateful Dead guitarist.
“I think about that guy all the time,” Adams said, noting that when he wrote the Dead-inspired songs “Magnolia Mountain” and “Cold Roses” (from his 2005 album, also titled “Cold Roses”), he felt like he understood the band “in a way I never had before.”
Adams and his four-piece Unknown Band then let the two songs unspool in a suitably shambling fashion, riding peaks and valleys, building in intensity and then pulling back over the course of 20 minutes. “Invisible Riverside,” which carried a similar vibe, followed.
As if his fandom needed further underlining, Adams was even wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt.
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That extended set piece aside, the show was all business. There were no onstage rants from the sometimes volatile artist, no hassles with audience members — not even the guy who showed his appreciation by barking like a seal — and no mention of his Monday tweetstorm (since deleted) targeting the Strokes.
Instead, Adams came charging out of the gate, the slashing power chords of the opening song, “Do You Still Love Me?” giving way to the raucous “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High).” The stage set made plain Adams’ harder-rocking intentions, with banks of giant amplifiers (many of them fake, a la Neil Young’s classic “Rust Never Sleeps” tour) and a pyramid of tube TVs, mostly showing static, but also images of nature and occasional nuclear explosions.
Adams played a handful of songs from his most recent album, “Prisoner,” but also culled favorites from older albums such as “Heartbreaker,” “Gold” and “Ryan Adams.”
Among the highlights were a slow, soulful take on “Dirty Rain;” “Prisoner,” which began as a solo acoustic number, then escalated as the band kicked in and Adams threw down a wild guitar solo; and a countrified take on “Let It Ride” that Adams said would be “the chillest version of this song we’ve ever played.” For whatever reason, the band was joined onstage by a black-hooded figure wearing a demon mask and playing a tambourine.
“Friend of the devil,” Adams quipped, calling back the Grateful Dead theme once again.
“When the Stars Go Blue” gave the show its arena-rock moment, as the song — one of Adams’ most rapturous — moved slowly toward the guitar solo. When it hit, blue spotlights were turned on a mirror ball, making the song’s lyric come alive. For those who can’t resist a properly deployed mirror ball —and who can, really? — the effect was shiver-inducing.
Adams built toward a big finish with old favorites “New York, New York” and “Come Pick Me Up.” On the closing number, “Shakedown on 9th Street,” he and his band pulled out all the stops and — somewhat comically — poured out enough theatrical fog to fill not just the stage, but the entire room.
Opener Jillian Jacqueline made her St. Louis debut with a handful of suburban-style country songs about relationships and generational issues. Her half-hour set showed promise but was mostly stuck in the lower gears. She could use something uptempo to break things up a bit.