DJ Anne Litt perfectly summed up KCRW’s live session last night by saying “I’m having my heart simultaneously broken and healed by Ryan Adams.”
Watching Ryan play a solo acoustic set was so special because it felt just like his music sounds when you listen to it on record: like he’s playing it just for you.
That he’s unselfishly exposing the depths of his emotions so you can feel fine about digging deep into yours. Clearly, I’m a super fan of Ryan Adams.
And for a super fan, this was an incredible set of music to witness.
He kicked it off with “Heartbreaker” favorite “Sweet Carolina” before heading into the title track off his new album “Ashes and Fire.” He played a mix of old and new songs, even digging into some older Whiskeytown material (“Houses on the Hill”, “Jacksonville Skyline”), “Please Do Not Let Me Go” from “Love is Hell”, “When Will You Come Back Home?” from “Cold Roses” and more. In fact, his encore was more like a third set as he flipped through a book of songs with his foot and decided which ones to play. (see the full list below)
Even though you could hear a pin drop in the room – it was by far our quietest audience yet at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studios – it was totally loose and fun. He cracked jokes while tuning between songs (playing vintage guitars does have its downfalls) and generally let us all into his world for an evening. (Ryan made a hilarious aside that shows he’s embracing Los Angeles as his new home. He said he he figured out you can “drive from the east side to the beach in the amount of time it takes to listen to AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock” and “Hell’s Bells”. Like, straight down Sunset. I sh*t you not. Try it.”)
The interview, hosted by KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley, was both illuminating and comical. It was dominated in the beginning by his love for Black Metal. But as much as he loves it, he told Jason he would never cover a Black Metal song (because it would be “physically impossible”) but that led to Jason asking about his most famous cover – of Oasis’ “Wonderwall”. He told the whole story behind it, which I had never heard before.
Ryan said is was the “weirdest, terrifying, f*cked up moment” when – before he’d recorded it — he played it alone on stage at famed London venue Brixton Academy and realized Noel Gallagher was actually standing off to the side of the stage.
“It was around the time I was doing the “Gold” tour and really solidifying what would become the beautiful failure of my middle career. All it took was the live shows. Everything else was the icing…”
He said the audience was actually laughing when he started and they weren’t into it, but he kept playing his hauntingly slow version, because he “knew it had this sadness in it”. It ends up Noel likes the cover, but it was a daunting moment when he saw him.
For recording “Ashes and Fire”, legendary producer Glyn Johns came on board and essentially showed up at his house and sat across from him in his living room to hear the songs he’d written. Ryan said the producer gave him important advice on the song that became “Lucky Now”, the first single. It started out much more raw with more “emotional energy” but he decided to scale it back because “if the song has too much personal information it’s almost like a perishable and you can only leave it out for so long before it’s going to get weird to you or sour”.
Ryan weaved songs off the new album – including my favorite “Invisible Riverside” – into the set and they fit right in in his larger body of work. And he proved once again that the true power of music is in songs that need nothing more than a guitar and a voice (and occasionally a harmonica).
Tune in to hear the full session on Morning Becomes Eclectic on Friday, December 2.
Funny side note: Ryan talked about how he uses a typewriter to write because he is “super ADD” and has “to work on something simple and I have to work on something that keeps me focused. I like the sound of it and the permanence of when I see the lyrics written out, it feels really good. I could work on a computer but there’s just too many options.”
Ryan Adams Live on KCRW Set List
1. Oh My Sweet Carolina
2. Ashes & Fire
3. Dirty Rain
4. My Winding Wheel
5. Invisible Riverside
6. Let It Ride
7. Please Do Not Let Me Go
8. Lucky Now
9. Chains Of Love
10. Do I Wait
Somebody Remembers The Rose
Houses on The Hill
When Will You Come Back Home?