Ryan Adams and the Cardinals

Rialto Theatre, Friday, Jan. 18

Unless you're too caught up in the "Giulianimania" that's been sweeping America, you may have heard about a talentless pop star's recent drug-fueled shenanigans--enough material for her own COPS spin-off. Worse yet is VH1's Celebrity Rehab, whose sole entertainment lies in stars' inability to function (incidentally, some of Taxi's Jeff Conaway's best work).

Then there's musician Ryan Adams, whose artistic decline and erratic behavior threatened to forever overshadow his stunning post-Whiskeytown early solo albums. Adams clandestinely sobered up and recently put out some of the best material of his career, much of which he highlighted Friday night at the Rialto Theatre.

Adams and his Cardinals stepped back from his alt-country roots to a time when the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and dueling solos ruled supreme. Adams enthusiastically jumped into jammy versions of Jacksonville City Nights' "Peaceful Valley," and "Mockingbird," off 2005's Cold Roses. Roses' titular track was also given a druggy '70s once-over, though a lap steel and its soulful harmonies were left intact.

On the lighter side, honky-tonk saloon tales "Bartering Lines," "Beautiful Sorta," "A Kiss Before I Go" and "Freeway to the Canyon" felt right at home against the backdrop of cardboard cacti and a faux sunset. Incidentally, "Canyon" is one of Cardinals lead guitarist Neal Casal's solo tunes. Casal's star shone brightly Friday on the hits "When the Stars Go Blue," "Two" and most notably on the duet "Dear John," for which he admirably filled Norah Jones' shoes.

As the Red Bulls kicked in, Adams geeked it up for the ladies, impressing the group in front of me who had earlier indulged in two-buck Chuck and Warm Vanilla Sugar Body Spray (I'm guessing). Adams' look was a hipster-geek version of Corey Haim in the movie Lucas: Oversized glasses, unkempt mop, tight jeans and a Sabbath concert-T. (Lucas II? Let's green-light this, Corey!)

Later on, Adams gave local legend Al Perry a shout-out ("We're Al's opener!"), and Cardinals bassist "Spacewolf`" received a funky-twang "birthday" tribute. (Astute YouTubers could have seen this routine coming, along with the "spontaneous" evening joke from the Andy Dick-looking Cardinals guitarist Jon Graboff.)

I didn't see the solo-Ryan-Adams-opening-for-Ryan-Adams-and-the-Cardinals set coming, but congrats if you got there way early and did. And congrats to Adams, for not shoving his rehab down our throats but letting us enjoy the fruits of his sobriety.

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