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Live Report: Ryan Adams Records for KCRW

All Photos by Jeremiah Garcia

“Hanging on every word” is one of those clichés that we use all the time, probably too much, as Ryan Adams’ set last night at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio to record a session for KCRW‘s Morning Becomes Eclectic (set to air on December 2nd) made me reconsider all the times I’ve used this sentiment before. During Adams’ opening version of the Heartbreaker classic “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” the slightest heavy breath or sipped beverage could be heard as the audience listened in nearly complete silence, showing both devout respect and a kind of enchantment. Likewise, when the song concluded (and it was pretty damn beautiful), the applause and cheering fired like a gunshot, reminding everyone in attendance that they were not alone. And, this continued for the nearly two-hours that Adams took the stage, as the crowd laughed at his plentiful jokes, listened attentively when he sang, and seemed to genuinely appreciate the unique experience of seeing an artist with both the history and the talent of Adams in a small room of not much more than a hundred people.

Adams’ set, which he prefaced by saying it would mix “50/50” old and new songs, highlighted both the longevity of his career, as well as the particularly strong recent collection, Ashes & Fire. By his “encore” (Adams joked that the encore was written into the setlist as ‘1-2 songs,’ but we should all pretend to be surprised, and then proceeded to play five songs for the section), Adams reached back to his Whiskeytown days, with “Somebody Remembers The Rose” and “Houses On A Hill” dating back to 1997’s Stranger’s Almanac, while middle-period Adams was also well represented with tracks like Love Is Hell‘s “Please Do Not Let Me Go” and a beautiful stripped and slowed-down “Let It Ride,” taken from the 2005 double-album Cold Roses. These inclusions assured that long-time fans would leave the evening fulfilled, but the most surprising thing about the musical portion of the set is how his newest material did not pale in comparison. While single “Lucky Now” has found an immediate place in the Ryan Adams pantheon, tracks like “Dirty Rain,” “Invisible Riverside,” and “Do I Wait” made strong cases for themselves as future staples in the Ryan Adams songbook.

Peppered throughout the musical portion of the evening was Adams’ trademarked sharp and self-deprecating sense of humor. Before the opening number, Adams paused to tune, saying that if he didn’t that the song “would sound like Sonic Youth… ‘Oh My Sweet Daydream Nation.'” Then, during the final portion on the evening, Adams delayed his closing tunes to sing the praises of the new Ratt album. And while this seemed to be all in jest, there was that aspect of the dialogue that made you realize that he wasn’t joking about liking the new Ratt, but rather turning the fact that he liked the new Ratt album into a form of self-mockery. The interplay between his cool self-confidence and his insecurities make Adams’ personality electric, something that feels like a privilege to be around, and is surely one of the defining aspects of what has allowed his career to successfully last so long.

Obviously, this was most demonstrated during the interview segment in the middle of the set, hosted by KCRW music director Jason Bentley. Though Bentley tried to steer the conversation to talk about Ashes & Fire, the singer seemed most comfortable when speaking on his YouTube series Night Sweats and his affinity for black metal (when Adams was initially asked about the metal subgenre, he answered in just about the most sincere and heartfelt way imaginable, “I love it”). Still, Adams did reveal a few tidbits about his recording techniques, both in the ease that his backing musicians worked, and the speed at which Ashes & Fire was recorded. All in all, the making of the album sounded like an inspired affair, something that translates into the finished product. But, the biggest laugh of the night came during a dip in the conversation, when Adams had a profound revelation that Bentley had “the most amazing voice, ever.”

Over the course of a couple hours, the weight of the entire experience began to give way to comfort and little details became the most noticeable. Adams said “bless you” when an audience member sneezed. The way Adams stomped his foot during “Ashes & Fire” to create the illusion of backing percussion. Adams asking the audience if he “did okay” after the interview, like a child who had just performed in front of their parents. And, the ballet dance that is the chorus of “Dirty Rain,” which wavers between raw emotion and controlled nuance, proving that his humor and songwriting aren’t the only thing that Ryan Adams should be know for; the guy can sing and for the evening the entire audience hung on every word.

Ryan Adams setlist:

Oh My Sweet Carolina
Ashes & Fire
Dirty Rain
My Winding Wheel
Invisible Riverside

Let It Ride
Please Do Not Let Me Go
Lucky Now
Chains Of Love
Do I Wait

Somebody Remembers The Rose
Houses on The Hill
Jacksonville Skyline
When Will You Come Back Home?
Like Yesterday

Look for Ryan Adams’ performance on December 2nd on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

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