"This is the perfect concert to come to right before you die," Ryan Adams
declares to a room of laughing audience members. But to many, Adams' small quips about death and terminable life seem particularly appropriate. With only a mic and a guitar, sometimes interchanging the instrument with piano, Carnegie Hall seems desolate and bare. I imagine the space only as some kind of apocalyptic warehouse, and audiences members have gathered in this dystopian land to listen to an exhausted hero sing about better days and lost love. To say the least, the sound is extremely intimate: for two-and-a-half hours, the pace remains unchanged while a wailing voice weaves through perilousness and an echoing space. Ryan Adams' fans should rejoice in this live capturing since it is apparent Adams wants the audience to have a unique, personal connection with him.
The album opens with a classic, stripped-down version of "Oh My Sweet Carolina". It's extremely rustic; Adams has suddenly transformed into the wisest patriarch, preparing to share his most prized wisdom with us. In this moment, the tone is set for the remaining hours. He howls pragmatically throughout each track, relenting his emotional distress through soft, reflective guitar strumming. On "Gimme Something Good," the archetypal pop-rock sound Adams has perfected over the past decade is shed for downtempo acoustics.
With song after song consisting of the same, gut-wrenching sentiment, Ryan Adams occasionally releases his own impromptu ideologies about what ever her feels like. Juxtaposing his slow-paced arrangements, he rattles off a plethora of jokes ranging from lactose intolerance to his 'lack' of talent. "I have a dairy allergy... which totally sucks," he says after the end of the first hour. In most cases, these remarks would seem ridiculous. But, they seem meticulously interspersed when the mood is in dire need of some lightheartedness.
The most startling part of Ryan Adams' musical seance is the piano-adorned, slow-churning rendition of 2001 hit "New York, New York". There's a long pause before the song starts as he adjusts to his new throne and juggles anecdotes about his inchoate knowledge of piano playing. Regarded as Adams' most famous song, "New York, New York" is seemingly unrecognizable: organs and drums vanished for sorrowful resonance and pervasive silence. Though many might dread this rendition of his classic tale of metropolitan hustle and bustle, something distinct emerges from his monosyllabic groaning. After fifteen years of performing the same songs, Adams has found a fresh perspective for his own work to shine; his crumbling vocals are mourning a past identity but simultaneously discovering another.
Being such a prolific icon in modern rock music, reinventing himself for this live album was the most meaningful and comprehensible thing Ryan Adams could do. To hear three hours of acoustic music, Adams' vocals breaking and reverberating throughout the venue, and viscerally experiencing the silence amongst the chaos, shows the true prowess of this perennial artist. Live From Carnegie Hall
is out now.