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Ryan Adams at Fillmore, making the case

For all intents and purposes, Ryan Adams is the Paris Hilton of indie-rock - you just can't bring yourself to not look, or perhaps more accurately, listen. As such, the messy-haired alt-country heartthrob, who played the Fillmore on Thursday night, has become a polarizing figure.

For all intents and purposes, Ryan Adams is the Paris Hilton of indie-rock - you just can't bring yourself to not look, or perhaps more accurately, listen. As such, the messy-haired alt-country heartthrob, who played the Fillmore on Thursday night, has become a polarizing figure.

The case against:

Hoo-boy. Adams came to fame, or some variation of it, on the heels of the messy collapse of his first band, the insurgent country pioneers Whiskeytown. With the exception of his breakthrough solo debut,

Heartbreaker

, Adams' recorded output has been both maddeningly prolific and wildly inconsistent, with gems often lost in the clutter of semiprecious stones.

He is an inveterate scene-maker, who was last seen rubbing up against the Strokes, back when a little of their cool-by-association actually meant something. He's invariably seen grinning, crookedly, in a skinny T-shirt, his patented bedhead hair in precise disarray, behind the velvet rope at the buzz-band show-of-the-week, usually accompanied by some indie model/actress arm candy. There, he will usually announce his plans to release five albums with three different bands in seven different languages, or some variation thereof, all subject to the whims of chemical change. Invariably, each new album is accompanied by a cycle of painfully self-absorbed confessional interviews wherein Adams publicly rides the seesaw of sin and redemption. Just kicked: speedballs, potent intravenous cocktails of heroin and cocaine. Also, alcohol.

The case for:

It has been my experience that Ryan Adams the live performer renders all the above moot, as was the case Thursday night when Adams performed with his five-piece band the Cardinals at the way-sold-out Fillmore. Performing stone-cold sober - I have it on good authority that backstage was bone-dry, as per the recently clean-and-sober Adams' instructions - behind a pair of dark sunglasses, Adams and his band played the entire show seated in a semicircle.

Drawing liberally from his recent back catalog - namely, 2005's Grateful Dead-indebted Cold Roses and the new and maddeningly inconsistent Easy Tiger - Adams & Co. performed impeccably, re-creating the twanged sonics and down-from-the-mountain harmonies of the recordings.

In the past, Adams proved incapable of editing himself, seemingly releasing everything and anything. Perhaps due to his newfound clarity, he finally seems able to separate the wheat from the chaff. Opening with a stellar reading of "A Kiss Before I Go," the lilting Gram Parsons hat- tip from Jacksonville City Nights, and closing with the haunted folkadelia of "I See Monsters" from Love Is Hell, Adams seems intent on actually putting his money where his mouth, or more accurately his mug, usually is - front and center. And, as became abundantly clear on Thursday night, the music is ready for its close-up.

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