The Spin 

Last Tuesday at The Ryman, Ryan Adams was as expected: erratic, strange, vaguely bratty and intensely brilliant.
Yacht rock Last Tuesday at The Ryman, RYAN ADAMS was as expected: erratic, strange, vaguely bratty and intensely brilliant. Adams’ voice was pure and controlled as he upped the tempo of “Dear Chicago” for a cleaner, less morose sound, while “Peaceful Valley” straddled its honky-tonk origins and a sweeping psychedelia. He focused on newer stuff, which might have explained why some people ditched early. Also, with his legendary kicking-a-guy-out-for-requesting-“Summer of ‘69” incident still not forgotten, the audience seemed to be watching the performance like it was NASCAR—just waitin’ for the crash. Some even prodded—an empty Heineken bottle landed on the stage, and during “Please Do Not Let Me Go,” a fan up front sassed something we couldn’t quite make out. Resolved to keep his cool, Adams responded, “It’s always got to be someone at The Ryman,” staring the heckler down until he was escorted out. At the end of the number, Adams’ said caustically, “That song wasn’t good enough. That whole record [Love is Hell] wasn’t good enough—it didn’t sound good on the yacht.” A jab at his label, the industry, critics—who knows? But none of it, not even his white patent leather platform shoes, could dim his vibrant presence. Waits’ world TOM WAITS did something last Saturday at The Ryman that may have been a first in the annals of Nashville music: he asked the moonstruck audience to stop clapping in time as he played. Perhaps only he could have pulled it off without seeming like a prima donna or a dick, but his mock self-deprecation only stoked the giddy crowd more as he blamed his own faulty sense of rhythm. “You’re a fuckin’ metronome,” he deadpanned, before resuming the macabre piano bounce of “Cemetery Polka.” If the audience was eager to make him feel welcome—he hadn’t played Nashville since an Exit/In show 31 years ago—Waits, to his credit, is too prickly and adventurous an artist just to wallow in adoration. In just 22 songs (not counting a couple of interpolated nods to Howlin’ Wolf), he managed to catch everyone up on the past three decades without playing a greatest-hits recap. Reaching back to the lilting “Tom Traubert’s Blues” off 1976’s Small Change, Waits alternately contorted and unfurled his long-limbed scarecrow frame, tossed off shaggy-dog one-liners and non-sequiturs, and railed at the sky with a cocked fist, like a street-corner prophet with visions of flying saucers. His band—including CASEY WAITS on drums, LARRY TAYLOR on upright bass and all-purpose instrumental ace BENT CLAUSEN on everything from keyboards to banjo—handled every curve the songs threw, segueing effortlessly from the sinuous groove of Swordfishtrombones’ “Shore Leave” to the manic Threepenny Opera goosestep of Blood Money’s “God’s Away on Business.” A short set with Waits at the piano produced some of the night’s loveliest moments as well as its funniest. Given the unenviable task of echoing Marc Ribot’s jagged guitar work on the records, veteran blues guitarist DUKE ROBILLARD put a slinkier spin on his serpentine leads, even playfully nudging the “Bang a Gong” riff into Waits’ hilarious “Goin’ Out West.” But it was the man in the crumpled Sinatra hat and well-worn funeral suit who commanded the room’s attention, shape-shifting from the paranoid neighbor of the spoken-word “What’s He Building in There?” to the heartsick soldier of “The Day After Tomorrow.” Any performer who gets a standing ovation before he hits the stage might be tempted to coast. Tom Waits, instead, spent the night earning it. Tangled up in fruit FIONA APPLE is creepy. Soulful, talented and passionate about her work, but creepy. When she took the stage at The Ryman last Friday, we felt a little bit like we were visiting crazy Aunt Ethel in the home. She hid behind the piano. She curled into a ball, hit herself with her fists, the mic and its stand. She tangled herself in the mic cord and spent a good portion of one song unwrapping it. She screamed, growled and clawed. She appeared not to have washed her hair in four days. But she exuded an energy that was part sultry jazz singer, part Linda Blair, and we loved it. Her songs were beautiful and more forceful than anything a record company has let her put on an album. “Extraordinary Machine” was transformed from quiet melody to confrontational anthem, with Apple sounding like an aging blues singer one minute and speaking in a high-pitched squeal the next, peering at us through frightened blue eyes. “I’m sorry,” she told us after a cathartic rendition of “Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song).” “I’ve been in a bad mood for the past 28 years.” Punk rock grrrls If Nashville soon sees an outpouring of all-girl rock bands, we’ll have KELLEY ANDERSON to thank. Sunday night, Anderson’s SOUTHERN GIRLS ROCK & ROLL CAMP showcased 16 acts comprised of girls aged 10 to 17 formed during the weeklong camp at MTSU. They performed a few covers of L7 and Joan Jett, but mostly originals. The songs are far more polished and spunky then you’d expect from beginners and intermediates, and the subject matter ranged from the expected to the absurd. HOT TOPIC IS NOT PUNK ROCK addressed the universal teen suspicion of labels. “Black T-shirts don’t mean you’re goth,” one line exclaimed. ROCK PAPER SCISSORS jammed on an original featuring the climactic shout, “lawn gnomes!” Though nobody used the f word, it’s clear the camp has feminist aims. Watching timid tweens adopt rock poses and command the audience to stand made it clear that this camp ain’t just about teaching chicks to jam. It’s about instilling confidence, fostering a sense of empowerment and helping girls believe in the transcendent power of rock—and, uh, lawn gnomes. Cool cool The PLEX PLEX show at Exit/In Sunday night was a crowd pleaser to all 30 people who showed up. Everyone must have been at The End watching OH NO! OH MY!, which even Plex Plex admitted they’d like to see. But when the band launched into their Brit-influenced new wave—New Order melodies with a Psychedelic Furs mood—we forgot all about the Austin band across the street. Singer AMANDA O’CONNOR has a messy glamour, and her voice can be a dead ringer for Siouxsie Sioux’s haunting incantations, although generally a few smokier octaves lower. The guitar riffs were all echoey ’80s melodies and achy reverb, and even after just a short set, the show-hop across the street, and into the present, seemed too cavernous a leap. • If you missed CHUNKLET magazine’s Overrated Tour stop last Friday at The Basement, you missed the world premiere of the mag’s newest video assault on South by Southwest (with local lad WILLIAM TYLER, in Boy Scout regalia, ambushing members of The Hold Steady and Queens of the Stone Age to earn his “rock merit badge”). You also missed Chunklet chieftain HENRY H. OWINGS’ news that the upcoming COMEDIANS OF COMEDY tour (which Owings manages) may actually launch next month in Nashville. Watch for details. • Sad news: WINDOWS ON THE CUMBERLAND, now celebrating its 20th year in Market Street Emporium, will close shop at its current location off Second Avenue at the end of September. The Emporium’s new owners declined to renew the club’s lease. One of the coziest rooms in town, with a great view of the riverfront, Windows played host to singer-songwriters as well as longtime local sax player MARK SHENKEL’s ska group A.K.A. RUDIE, among countless other groups. The only bright spot: the club may open at another location. Stay tuned. Send requests for “Summer of 69” or examples of authentic 1970s punk to thespin@nashvillescene.com.

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