Around the halfway mark of his set, after a few dozen isolated voices had called out to him with requests — a tactic he’s notorious for rejecting — Ryan Adams encouraged the entire Santa Barbara Bowl audience to join in with him in a kind of group primal scream. “Let’s get it all out now,” he implored the crowd in the Cookie Monster voice he would use on and off throughout the night, and then thousands of fans joined him in one giant raucous chorus of “Aaarrgh!”
When he wasn’t playing one of these impulsive games with his fans, Adams led his quintet through almost two hours of the best American rock that anybody is playing in 2016. Whether he was jamming alongside a surging Hammond B-3 organ or bringing things down to a hushed silence with just his voice and guitar for the unforgettable ballad “I See Monsters,” Adams carried this show with a relaxed and confident intensity. Jenny Lewis of openers Nice as Fuck joined for two numbers, and the two showed us what can happen when great songwriters are also great performers.