Ryan Adams & The Cardinals,

Royce Hall UCLA, Jan. 30

By Timothy Norris

There’s something inspiring about visiting college campuses. The architecture, the formality and the certainty of purpose in almost everyone you pass as you walk towards your destination. Maybe it's that while you’re on a college campus, there is a destination. Whether you’re in a classroom or just outside of one, you must be on your way somewhere.

My destination tonight was Royce Hall, somewhere near the north side of UCLA's campus. I've been a handful of times, but not to Royce Hall before. It's also my first time seeing Ryan Adams in concert and with the academic grandeur of the place, I could think of no better venue to see him play. It reminded me of seeing the Black Crowes on their Southern Harmony and Musical Companion tour at the Beacon Theatre in New York. It felt a little like being a kid again. I was looking forward to this.

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The lounge was packed and the line at the bar looked deep. Cookies and pastries lined tables on the approach to the bar, and for only a few bucks each they could be yours. They were unwrapped and in the open like it was Grandma’s house on a Sunday afternoon. That might not be a bad thing at Grandma’s house, but in a room packed with people? Pastries aside, the room buzzed in anticipation, and soon the lights dimmed to encourage us to our comfy seats.

Ryan Adams and his band did not disappoint. They played with nuance in the acoustically fine room, and it sounded wonderful to the ear. Early in the set they player Oasis' “Wonderwall” from Love is Hell which flowed into “Everybody Knows,” from last year's Easy Tiger – high points for me.

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A few songs later some dude in about the third row stood up to face the crowd, raised his arms to motion everyone to join him in standing and declared that “This is a concert!”, as though to say the rest of everyone wasn’t feeling it. This inspired a little punk number I noted down as “Sir Cough I Guess”, only say it real fast and as one word and think of those pastries on the table. (That’s why I wouldn’t eat them.)

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Anyway, they cranked out this jam “Sarcophagus” – it just ripped. It sounded like something from the myspace page and that we should be crowd surfing to. Adams' banter onstage was easy and jovial all night. There’ll be recordings out soon enough so you can hear it all. I’m thinking about the copy I’ve been promised as I write. It will be a wonderful day to open the mailbox. The crowd did its share of calling out stuff too, perhaps a little too much so. But what can you expect in a room full of friends?

At the end of the night I listened to people in the crowd talk about what an amazing show this was, and this coming from people who have seen the band many times. It must have been my lucky night. Though I expected nothing less, tonight Ryan Adams & the Cardinals delivered.

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Click here for a full slideshow of the concert.

All photos and words by Timothy Norris

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