Ryan Adams solo show matches elegance of Carnegie Hall

Carnegie Hall is one of those sacred musical spaces, a vast chancel of imposing dignity and hushed refinement. Ryan Adams took it in stride Tuesday night, making his Carnegie Hall debut with a two-hour performance that matched the sweeping elegance of the room while adding an undercurrent of droll levity.

The solo-acoustic concert was part of Adams’ first tour since taking an extended break from the road to deal with an inner-ear condition, which may help to explain why he spent part of the show seated with his guitar before a microphone. Sitting or standing, his performance was never less than riveting.

Adams took advantage of the magnificent acoustics in the hall, sitting well back from the microphones for his voice and guitar (and, occasionally, piano) and letting the room amplify
his music for an audience that, early on, policed itself by shushing over-enthusiastic applauders who dared to drown out more than a moment or two of Adams’ spare, heartwrenching songs.

He was generous with the set, opening with a sigh on “Oh My Sweet Carolina” and moving back and forth through his extensive catalog. He reimagined the rollicking country song “Let It Ride” as a slower, more rueful number, and reworked “New York, New York” as a soulful murmur on piano.

“That was beautiful!” someone in the audience called out when the song was over.

“Did you say, ‘Howard’s Beautiful?'” Adams asked, improvising a full song about someone named Howard who was beautiful and also smart.

It was one of several comic moments in the show. After playing 13 consecutive gutbucket numbers, he paused for a second before starting another one, “Lucky Now.” “I’m going to play a ballad now,” he said, deadpan.

Adams later played a rearranged cover of Ratt’s “Round and Round” to waves of laughter from the crowd. He bookended the Ratt tune with “Jacksonville Skyline” and “16 Days,” songs he wrote with his former band, Whiskeytown, before ending the main set with “Come Pick Me Up.” He returned to play “Blue Hotel” for an encore.

Jessica Lea Mayfield opened the show.

Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by David Black

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