The Best Band We Saw At SXSW, Day 2: Ryan Adams (And His Stolen Cat Coat)

The music portion of South by Southwest 2016 (also known as the part with fewer tech bros) takes place between Tuesday, March 15, and Sunday, March 20. Every day, we’ll name our favorite act we caught in Austin, Texas.

During South by Southwest, everything in Austin becomes a music venue. A yoga studio houses indie-folk strummers playing for indifferent onlookers, a sausage restaurant becomes a punk dive, and a hotel is turned into the Not-So-Grand Ole Opry, where Ryan Adams stops his show mid-set to admonish the audience to “Shut the f*ck up. At least 40 percent of the people want to hear the song. You can talk the rest of the set. Do we have a f*cking deal?” Once he got through an acoustic performance of the Heartbreaker stunner “My Winding Wheel,” Adams added, “You did a good job. I’m so proud of you guys from Megaforce USA; 80 Jager shots in and you’re still standing!”

It sounds like Adams was in a testy mood, and maybe he was, playing a spacious ballroom at the JW Marriott last night (from where I was standing, the sound was great), but his ribbing came across as playful, not cruel. Before the show, audience members were asked to not use flash photography, due to a performer’s medical condition. When someone in the crowd refused to listen, Adams, rather than making the guy bleed some bad blood, made fun of the ironic hipster’s cat jacket and even put it on for two songs. He eventually handed it back because he didn’t want his sweat to ruin it.

(There were also Indiana Jones references and an amusing, off-the-cuff bit about how Puddle of Mudd played in Los Angeles on 3/11, which led to my new favorite sentence, “This one goes out to Puddle of Mudd…”)

Adams had to save some intensity for the set, which spanned 14 songs in 90 minutes. The night kicked off with “Gimme Something Good,” the first single from the Grammy-nominated Ryan Adams. From there, he flipped throughout his discography, from Demolition‘s lovely “Dear Chicago” to a stretched-out “Peaceful Valley” from the underrated Jacksonville City Nights. There was Americana, Neil Young thrashers, and a scruffy “New York, New York.” The songs were given a shot of energy and his band was tight, sounding like four touring-lifers raised on Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and whiskey.

The only disappointment of the evening was the lack of Taylor Swift. Adams’ 1989 is a genuine stunner, and it would have been interesting to hear how he contextualized “Out of the Woods” in a live setting. But like Adams said, “You wanted the audience-pleaser show? That’s at a different hotel, the F*ckhead Hotel.” I think Puddle of Mudd is doing a residency there.