Ryan Adams lays his quirks bare on 'Live at Carnegie Hall'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Before starting a song on piano, the audience begins to cheer in recognition when Ryan Adams abruptly stops.
“Why do you do that? You’re like totally scaring me. There’s, like, so much RAM being used for, like, basic life skills, that I’m very easily alarmed.”
It’s a great moment. He gets the crowd laughing and he plays up his image as this disheveled, scatterbrained savant before devastating them with the quiet beauty of “New York, New York,” his tale of leaving a city and a lover with more than a few regrets, but leaving all the same.
It’s across two nights here in New York that he recorded what is now Live at Carnegie Hall, a six-record box set that saw Adams performing solo in the historic concert hall. Appropriately, his sense of humor was on full display, from his laments about the difficulty of Angry Birds Star Wars levels, to his complaints about the patched jean jacket he wore for all of 2014, to the records themselves: the sixth sides of each night contain most of the applause and “thank you”s cut from the proper albums’ running times.
But beyond capturing a moment, or even the unique moments of brilliance that can pop up through the course of the night, live albums are at their best when they can present an artist in a new way. On the surface, there’s nothing too revelatory about the idea of Adams with just a guitar and a harmonica. Happily, there’s nothing rote about these performances. Adams took the bookings at the historic venue and turned it into an opportunity to play his songs without all pretense, stripped away from his band The Shining for the first time in months, experimenting with his setlists and tackling new songs.
He takes “Rats in the Wall,” one of the minute-plus blasts of punk purity from his 1984 EP and recasts it as a slow, mournful acoustic number on the first night. He also notes that he recorded three albums worth of material in making last year’s Ryan Adams, and debuts “This Is Where We Meet In My Mind.” “How Much Light” also makes its first appearance here, just beating out its arrival on his latest single release. He rips away all of the rock and roll noise that made “Gimme Something Good” such a catchy opener all last year in his full-band shows and gives it new life as a brooding elegy. And in between, he’ll slip into a Billy Ocean impression or make fun of his hair.
All the sides of Ryan Adams the artist and personality are present on this box set, and they all work together beautifully, providing comic relief to the desperate tales that he’s still able to write and deliver with such frequency and ferocity. Through the 42 songs and all the asides and grunts with, he lays himself out on one of the more intimidating stages available.
He can disarm a crowd with his self-deprecating sense of humor, but he lays them to waste with the songs he sings and the conviction with which he sings them. And he doesn’t need much more than his guitar and his voice to do it.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org