A lone man, his voice and his guitar. The set-up for last night’s Live on Letterman couldn’t have been any more different to the first show in the series that I went to a few weeks ago, where Peter Gabriel and a 40-piece orchestra performed for our privilege at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Yet, the understated quiet of this set by Ryan Adams was in itself, just as moving, as captivating.
For the first half, Adams’ barely said a word in between songs, moving from one to another, as he moved from guitar (red, yellow and green) to guitar (black) and piano. When he did speak, he was goofy funny, cracking jokes about touring solo these days because he doesn’t like fighting for the mirror before a concert, and lamenting the theme song change of the Moonlighting TV series.
The jokes seemed to counter the intensity of the songs in his performance. Played bare and stripped down, with Adam’s voice holding the audience’s gaze, listening, they compelled pure silence. He opened with a delicate version of Oh My Sweet Carolina, then the title track off Ashes & Fire, his latest solo offering and If I Am A Stranger, from his 2011 album with The Cardinals. When he took to the piano he played a completely stripped down New York, New York – the line “I’ll always love you though New York”, leaving Adams’ imprint in the venue where The Beatles first performed in the US.
Sitting at the piano had revealed Adams’ Iron Maiden jacket. After the song, he said to the audience, “Can you imagine coming to one of these things and seeing KISS this close? That would be amazing.” It would. But so too is the opportunity to hear this singer-songwriter in this setting.