There was a time when I seriously thought I would never see Ryan Adams perform live. I remember that day quite vividly and also thinking that all of the years of listening to Whiskeytown, The Cardinals, and Mr. Adams himself were substantially less meaningful without the benefit of a live performance. With that in mind, the opportunity to see Adams perform live at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday night seemed like a chance for personal redemption.
Adams’ recently released Ashes & Fire (2011) has been broadly lauded as the most successful of his recent albums. Over his long career, Adam’s has produced albums that have waned from superb to downright mediocre. Since the release of Demolition (2002), a certain handful of Adams’ tracks have been nothing other than brilliant, and others only an attempt at such. It seems like most of us want Ryan Adams to be perfect; and the truth is he’s much closer than most give him credit for.
Adams’ show at Carnegie on Tuesday will stand as one of the more memorable performances I’ve had the chance to see. Adams’ personal ties to New York City were deeply evident in his emotion and storytelling around his time here. Lines like “when I lived in the Chelsea Hotel” made clear that the time he spent in the city was and will always be a strong influence on his music and person. The influence of locales is in his music was quite clear on Tuesday evening as he performed “Oh My Sweet Carolina”, “Dear Chicago”, “My Blue Manhattan”, and incorporated mentions of his hometown of Jacksonville, NC.
Adams played a number of tracks from Ashes and Fire, including “Lucky Now”, “Dirty Rain”, “Do I Wait”, “Invisible Riverside”, “Chains of Love”, and an unforgettable performance of “I Love You, But I Don’t Know What To Say”. I came away from the show with a new appreciation of the album, particularly as it relates to how it fits into the larger scheme of his work.
Adams played a wide variety of tracks, including surprises from his Whiskeytown days, Cardinology (2008) and Easy Tiger (2008). Adams also played crowd favorites like “Winding Wheel” and the never-surprising “Come Pick Me Up” near the end of the set.
Contrary to what most will say, in my view, Ryan Adams is one of the more likable musicians around today. He is a self-proclaimed “asshole” and yes, self-destructive was once a term that many used to describe his on- and off-stage banter. He turned himself into an easy target. But on a Tuesday night in December, Adams displayed an uncanny sense of wit and charm. Between tracks, his discussions of “interdimensional beings”, and, of course, “Howard”, Adams’ performance could be described as a portrait of an artist as a human, one who on this particular evening “let it ride” and relaxed for just long enough to allow us to understand the complex nature of his endearing qualities.