By Ward Pettibone
Ryan Adams wants to play you a song. Lots of songs, in fact – two dozen, if you’ll stick around. In a nearly two-hour show at the Hammerstein Ballroom on Nov. 23, Adams tore through just about every song he could think of – reaching as far back as 2000’s “Heartbreaker” for “My Winding Wheel” and trying out a good half-dozen songs from his latest self-titled album, released in September.
There’s a danger of whiplash when you teleport around fifteen years of musical evolution, but Adams managed the transitions gracefully – or, at minimum, with his irreverent, often self-deprecating humor (“Here’s another [song] from my troubled subconscious mind”). The audience kept up, and if the plaid-and-fedora teenagers didn’t recognize an older song, the quorum of fifty-somethings near the front, who hadn’t even bothered to loosen their ties, were more than happy to take up the slack.
Adams opened with “Gimme Something Good,” the first single from “Ryan Adams,” then slid into “Let It Ride,” from 2005’s “Cold Roses.” While some songs were noticeably spruced up for a live audience, “Am I Safe” being a particularly successful example, he was careful to keep classics like “Oh My Sweet Carolina” more or less true to the originals. “New York, New York,” unsurprisingly, was met with loud cheers, and more than a few tears were shed during “When the Stars Go Blue.”
Adams has released, on average, one album every year since 2000, but almost three years passed between “Ashes & Fire” and “Ryan Adams.” The wait was worth it, as evinced by the energy of the fans at Hammerstein. Adams knew it, too, and used it to his advantage: he was clearly having the time of his life, and the sentiment was infectious. He managed to command attention for the entire set, somehow making a venue that seats a few thousand feel as intimate as a Brooklyn bar.
Although the band was just as energetic and engaging, it was Adams running the show, and he took plenty of opportunities to goof off – at one point he asked for the lights to be brought up so he could check whether his guitar was green or black: this question, revisited later in the night, was never definitively resolved; neither was the issue of an apparent dingo infestation in the ballroom.
After a solid twenty-odd songs, as the crowd cheered for an encore, Adams protested that “it’s not physically possible!” The cheering only got louder, and Adams played along: “It’s slightly possible!”
Of course, before long, he was back at it, with as much energy as ever, doing exactly what he wanted to do.
Ward Pettibone is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com