Ryan Adams at The Beacon
Photo Credit: Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos
Beacon Theatre, New York, NY
May 3, 2017
Sometimes a venue and an artist just seem to fit together. Though it’s a seated theater with opera-house trappings like stage-side golden goddesses and lion statues—with a gilded sunburst and chandelier looking down from above—the Beacon Theatre in New York has seen its fair share of rock shows. Just ask Derek Trucks. So when Ryan Adams came to town with his full (unnamed) band behind him, the Upper West Side stage welcomed them with open arms and red velvet curtains, providing a vessel to deliver a performance that ranged from bombastic to intimate—a perfect fit for the Beacon.
While some bands lean on expansive catalogs and ever-rotating setlists to imbue each of their shows with a unique flavor, Adams’ shows derive their singular nature from the singer-songwriter’s easy-going and goofy banter with the crowd. For his second night on the Beacon stage, however, Adams started out all-business.
Bursting out to gate with the lead single from his latest album Prisoner, “Do You Still Love Me?,” Adams and company kicked things off in stadium-rock high gear before plowing through on the next song, the rollicking “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” off Adams’ solo debut back in 2002.
Adams was backed by both his band and a stage setup that featured at least 20 small televisions that shone in unison, broadcasting static, stock footage and more, sometimes reflecting the song being played, along with at least three stuffed felines—two tigers prowling the ground and one house cat perched on top of the stacks of oversized amplifiers—and even a coat rack which Adams used to relieve himself of his signature jean jacket partway through the performance.
Continuing to show he’s all but perfected his hard-hitting brand of alt-country rock with more than a touch of earnest soul-baring (and of course just enough self-deprecation to keep things from getting too serious), Adams continued running through both older tunes (“Two” and “Everybody Knows”) and newer (Prisoner’s “Outbound Train” and title track), along with a beautiful solo acoustic rendition of “English Girls Approximately” that proved even Adams without a backing band is
more than worth the concert ticket.
About halfway through the show, Adams brought out his crowd-pleasing version of Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” a expertly sparse cover that featured striking organ crescendos from Ben Alleman that was followed up with a pairing of new track “Doomsday” with throwback tune “When the Stars Go Blue” (accompanied by the night-sky-appearing stage backdrop appropriately lighting up). Adams finally addressed the crowd directly, saying that the band doesn’t usually come out so focused and quiet. When a fan called out from the back of the orchestra section, Adams playfully said “I can’t talk to you right now; I’m working. I’ll get in trouble.”
The second half of the show was decidedly looser and leaned heavy on Cardinals-era Adams tunes, starting with “Let It Ride,” introduced with the singer saying, “Let’s play an old one.” Even before he began talking to the crowd, Adams’ performance was a conversation with the audience, eliciting cheers and applause with every peak and hushed reverence for every understated moment. And Adams was right there with them, eventually voicing his undying love for New York City. “I always come back,” he said. “Because this is my fucking spiritual home.” After a huge response from the Beacon crowd, Adams punctuated the statement with the debut of recently release Prisoner B-side “Are You Home?”
Approaching the closing stretch of the night, Adams and company ran through more Cardinals tunes like “Sweet Illusions” and a “Magnolia Mountain” that ended up being a jammed-out highlight of the evening, with the musicians entering another territory of rocking solos before returning to the song proper. A couple songs later, after a welcome “Cold Roses,” “Shakedown on 9th Street” prompted the onstage smoke machine to kick into overdrive, filling both the stage and the first several rows and obscuring Adams and his band in purple, pink and orange hues.
To close out his two-night Beacon run, Adams echoed the first evening by returning to his own tribute to the city, “New York, New York,” before forgoing the usual offstage break between set and encore, opting instead for leading the audience in an interesting exercise. “I just want to see how long everyone can pretend to be snakes.” So, because Ryan Adams said so, the entire Beacon Theatre was filled with about 20 seconds of hissing.
Adams and the band then closed out the run with his oft-encored “Come Pick Me Up,” a sing-along that epitomized both Adams’ incredible songwriting and (sometimes under-appreciated) vocal talent coupled with his love for the city and that city’s love for him.