So I guess if I want you to understand why I walked out of tonight’s Ryan Adams and the Cardinals show, I have to take you back in time a few years. It was Autumn 2003, late October into early November, and I lived in a room the size of a wardrobe not a stone’s throw from the shiny new venue the band played tonight. On my bedroom door was a tour poster I stole from a toilet wall in some Glasgow pub or other, and a calendar countdown I’d made from a post-it note. I was a few weeks away from seeing Ryan Adams live for the first time, back in the city I still called home’s legendary Barrowlands venue, and I was well excited.
That show was one of the best of my life for so many reasons: meeting some of those temporary best friends you do at gigs when you’re there on your own and just get chatting, united by nothing but your love of the music; staking out the venue til the band emerged; cheeseburgers and hugs and taxicabs at three in the morning and Parker Posey giving me the evil eye. I do not hold it up as a point of comparison musically, neither to subsequent Ryan Adams shows or to anything else (it was the Rock n Roll Killers tour), but more as an illustration of how utterly bonkers my life was at the age of 21 and how such nights of lunacy – while hardly commonplace – provided the sort of big, multi-coloured exclamation points I never seem to hit anymore. Those “emo” years of mine were never easy, but at least they were never dull. I couldn’t cast a vote either way as to whether I was a better, happier or more interesting person then than I am now, but common sense rarely gets the better of nostalgia.
Edinburgh, as a city, has never forgiven me for not putting the work in, as it were – that every Saturday I’d clock out from another shift flirting with the Dalry Road boys and head straight for Haymarket and a train back west. The city shows her displeasure in two ways: firstly, by never changing; and secondly, by never staying the same. So the student hole where I once spent a week living off a buy one get one free frozen pizza deal, a box of prescription painkillers and the jar of coppers I traded for photocopying credits is still standing, but they knocked down the bingo hall that marked our bus stop and built new offices in shining glass and chrome (half the law firms I tend to come across in the course of an average week all seem to boast my old postcode, which is surreal in itself). I could name ever shop front that lines Lothian Road and point out the ones I’ve visited in my pyjamas, but I walked past one of those Dalry Road boys I used to crush on when I got off the train this evening, and the faint smile he flashed my way was one of politeness, not recognition.
And the last time I was in what they’re now calling The Picture House it was Freshers Week 2003 and I was with my little brother and my then-flatmate, the one who still owes me her share of the last electricity bill. I don’t think the decor has changed much in five years, although it was dark and I was drunk – the bar prices certainly haven’t. As a venue, when full, it’s stifling, you can’t get moving and there are only about three points on the floor from which you can actually see the band. Edinburgh’s version of the ABC it is not.
These new Cardinals (as I cannot help but refer to the post-Neal Casal years) have matured into a tight live act and you certainly can’t fault their performance. They open with “Cobwebs”, one of the standouts from the new album, and it’s clear they plan to showcase plenty of new material tonight. Too many songs I don’t care about, like Casal’s “Freeway to the Canyon” (but thankfully no “What Sin Replaces Love”) don’t agree with my lingering flu and, with considerable difficulty, I inch my way through the crowd to the relative safety of Gav and the bar. On my way I hear a girl, dressed to the nines for a night out, ask her boyfriend which one Ryan Adams is: he keeps a lower profile these days and I know it’s not up to me to care, but this man means so much to me that I can’t help but worry when I see how tiny he is these days.
He’s still the man who wrote some of the songs that mean the most to me – the ones that I wept to through my early twenties and sometimes still do – and slips them into the setlist when you least expect it: “When The Stars Go Blue” still dancing through the Glasgow underground after the underage consumption of a bottle of orange Reef or
two four, and “Come Pick Me Up” – my favourite song, the one I always said I’d kill to hear live, ultimately punctuated by the loud conversation of the two guys behind me. Not ruined, it could never be that… but certainly not the way it always played out in my head.
In the end too many songs that meant too much, played too close to my old neighbourhood and with me still a little too ill, proved too much and I needed the cool space to cry that the early walk to Waverley provided. A quiet train, a boy (with a new job!) to meet me at the other end and a wait for the night bus in the rain later and I am home, looking up the levels of pain for different locations of tattoo on the internet and convincing myself that I’ve been talking about it for long enough – I think, in the morning, I should get my Cold Rose.
[PHOTO: Day 80.]