There was Ryan Adams, onstage Wednesday evening at the Beacon Theatre with TVs stacked behind him emitting a white-noise glow. It was a curious sight, evoking the nonstop stream of political mayhem that surrounds us now, making it nearly impossible to tune out anything at all. But this was something else, an intimate night that saw Adams returning to the place he referred to as his “spiritual home”: New York.
Incense set the mood, which was full of a reverence you don’t experience much at shows anymore; these days, they’re often more content to be captured than music to be experienced. It was a welcome change to see more eyes than iPhones taking in this show — in part because concertgoers were met with flyers reminding them to avoid using any kind of flash photography, lest any sudden bright light trigger Adams’s Meniérè’s disease, the inner ear disorder that can induce hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus.
Across a two-hour set, Adams laid out a career-spanning 23 songs, beginning with the explosive “Do You Still Love Me?,” the lead track off Prisoner, the first album of originals Adams has released since the dissolution of his six-year marriage to Mandy Moore (and a song that finds a way of making power chords sound hesitant and hushed). There’s plenty of heartbreak laced through Adams’s sixteen albums, but the six songs he played from Prisoner (including one from its accompanying album of B-sides) cut like knives. Because Adams’s personal life has become so public, his set felt like one giant therapy session, oscillating between uncertainty, angst, grief, and healing, as he moved from the raw intensity of solo stripped-down tracks like his iconic cover of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” to anthems with the vigor of Bruce Springsteen, such as “Outbound Train.”
Adams continued to stun throughout the evening with dreamy guitar solos on “Everybody Knows” and “When the Stars Go Blue.” The transition from the wistful “English Girls Approximately” into the wailing of “Prisoner” was perhaps the most intense moment of the show, with Adams’s smoky vocals serving as a rallying cry. The gritty “Cold Roses” segued into the roaring “Shakedown on 9th Street,” and the undertones of heartbreak were balanced by a keen sense of self-awareness. Ryan didn’t speak much between songs; that was something he saved for the end, letting his one-liners roam freely between the faux encore and finale. But words weren’t necessary to connect with fans — the music did the work. As Adams closed his set with a solo, harmonica-driven performance of “New York, New York” and the classic cut “Come Pick Me Up” from his solo debut, Heartbreaker, it felt like the perfect goodbye to an old friend, creating a sense of familiarity that will forever make him an honorary New Yorker.