Category: Ryan Adams

Review: Ryan Adams at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Halfway through Ryan Adams’ solo acoustic set at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday night, the shaggy-haired singer looked up from the crowd as he was tuning his instrument and made a confession: “I know I’m paranoid, but sometimes when I play the guitar it seems like hundreds of people are watching me.” 

Though he was joking, Adams’ devil-may-care attitude and between-song mumbles did suggest that we -- meaning the audience in the 2,200-seat, sold-out hall -- were just passersbys who’d stumbled across a dude playing music in his backyard. 

Adams, 37, walked onto Disney Hall’s stage as though he’d just gotten off the bus in his crumpled jeans and faded jean jacket. Flanked by an upright piano on one side and a music stand and microphone on the other, the North Carolina-born Angeleno picked up his guitar (striped red, white and blue like the instruments on “Hee-Haw”) and declared his intent:  “Let’s all get sad together,” he said before guiding us through the melancholy journey of “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” from his now-classic 2000 country rock album “Heartbreaker.”

A song in which Adams roams the country “building newsprint boats I race to sewer mains,” on record “Carolina” features a full band and Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. At Disney, with its cathedral-like space surrounding him and lighting that cast the singer in blood red, his voice drifted out from center stage like a ripple, little augmentation necessary. 

Throughout a 17-year career that started with his first band, Whiskeytown, Adams has carved a determined path; while many of his would-be songwriting peers in  the “alternative country” movement from which he rose went on to either write structurally complex and intricately arranged albums or painted themselves into a (twang-heavy) corner, Adams has pared his writing to the bone. He has become a Raymond Carver-esque perfectionist whose lyrics so precisely capture emotions that adornments seem unnecessarily gauche, like painting flames on a drag racer. 

Adams is a songwriter who’s presumptuous in the best sense of the word: He understands that roots music, or whatever you call it -- the kind that stretches from Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly through Dylan, the Flying Burrito Bros., X, Lucinda Williams and Uncle Tupelo -- remains a living, breathing thing. The songwriter has full confidence that writing, say, an ode to Carolina, or ashes, or fire, though it’s been done thousands of times before, can still make a universal impact, can still expand the conversation, can become a new standard. 

Adams was funny between songs, if a little too mumbly, and throughout the evening he dotted his banter with either verbal or musical references to, among other things, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” AC/DC (the distance down Sunset Boulevard to the beach from his house is two full AC/DC albums), and the starship Enterprise.

This was a dark and lonely night, though, and Adams, self-aware almost to a fault, acknowledged as much throughout the show; he suggested at one point a drinking game based on the appearance of the word “rain” in his lyrics -- we all would have been hammered by the night’s end. So slow was the pace that he conveyed remorse for all the weepers even as he delivered them absolutely unapologetically.

Also unapologetic was the strange opening "act," a Mark Twain impersonation by actor Val Kilmer that was such a weird nonsequitur that it's really hard to figure out what to make of it. The actor walked onstage unintroduced, so buried beneath white Twain hair, bushy mustache and white suit, few if anyone in the crowd knew who this was (but it certainly wasn't Hal Holbrook).

The actor did a Twain-type monologue that touched on Los Angeles, the oddness of Rudyard Kipling's first name, "Negro spirituals," Twain's editor William Dean Howells, and, in one of many anachronistic references, Louis Armstrong (who wasn't famous in Twain's lifetime), among others. If there was a point to his monologue other than to convey something surreal, it certainly wasn't made clear. 

That was up to Adams.

Whether singing in the lovely "Invisible Riverside," "I wanna lay my head forever on your shoulder," or acknowledging that "I'm fractured from the fall and I wanna go home" in "Two," Adams delivered his emotions in a way that deftly walked the line that separates universal truth and cliche, seldom lapsing into a predictable path while implicitly acknowledging that even though all stories have been told before, that doesn't mean they've been told by someone like him. 

Ditto the choice of cover songs: Oasis' "Wonderwall," delivered as a sad lament, and, even more oddly convincing, Ronnie James Dio's metal classic, "Holy Diver." Only Adams could pull this stuff off without it dripping with irony. But in both cases, the solid conviction that's at the heart of Adams' best work eclipsed any notion that this was a stunt. It's Adams' most admirable trait.


Ryan Adams is out of the fire

And now, Ryan Adams' metal countdown show

Review: Bob Mould's 'See a Little Light' at Disney Hall

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams in his Hollywood music studio in front of a pair of Fairchild 660 compressor limiters originally used by the Beatles. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times. 

Ryan Adams to play solo set at Disney Hall

The consensus out of the Bob Mould retrospective at Disney Hall last month: Ryan Adams' modest solo acoustic set was the most welcome surprise of the evening. It featured spare takes on Mould's "Heartbreak a Stranger" and "Black Sheets of Rain," with Adams successfully re-contextualizing the originals.

Singer-songwriter Adams seems to have enjoyed the night as well -- he's booked a solo date at the same venue on Feb. 17.

The show, in support of his recent and well-received solo album, "Ashes & Fire," will be Adams' first L.A. date since his Hollywood Forever date on Oct. 10 (which sold out in minutes). Previous Adams tours have featured a large band; his recent solo dates have earned wide praise. Tickets for the event go on sale Sunday at 10 a.m.


Ryan Adams is out of the fire

And now, Ryan Adams' metal countdown show

Review: Bob Mould's 'See a Little Light' at Disney Hall

-- August Brown

Photo: Ryan Adams performs at UCLA's Royce Hall. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

Live review: Bob Mould's 'See a Little Light' at Disney Hall

Around 9:30 Monday night at Disney Hall, toward the end of a round-table concert celebrating the music of Bob Mould, Foo Fighters' frontman Dave Grohl did what he does better than just about anyone in rock music today. He got behind a drum set and absolutely murdered a song.

The tune was Hüsker Dü's "New Day Rising," a punishing one-two punk gallop from 1985 with the title as a repeated mantra that everything will someday get better.  It was probably the loudest thing ever played at Disney Hall, and Grohl's muppety ferociousness got the room to its feet.

Out in front, the man who wrote it stood graying and grinning,  howling the lyric with the conviction of a prophet proved right. Mould, after 25 years in the trenches performing his melodic, bloodletting  punk, finally got the retrospective he deserved at Disney Hall with "See a Little Light: A Celebration of the Music and Legacy of Bob Mould." The night was lovingly curated, totally contemporary in its choice of guests (despite last-minute cancelations by Ben Gibbard and Best Coast) and asserted the power of a songwriter with feelings so intense they required the urgency of punk.

2011 will go down as a pivotal year for Mould, who began his career in the early '80s fronting the Minneapolis-based trio Hüsker Dü and who continues today as a solo artist. He released a memoir,  "See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody," that revealed the raw nerves that made his songs so ferocious but sensitive. It revealed his demons of substance abuse, his lifelong reckoning with his homosexuality, his insatiable mission to make albums as musical and as popular as the classic rock he and his fellow punks rebelled against.

Monday's show was a definitive statement that he succeeded. The range of guests showed three generations of artists (and to judge by the salt-and-pepper hair in the audience, of fans too) that borrowed his template to make music furious and reflective at once.

Spoon's Britt Daniel, in his takes on "The Act We Act" and "JC Auto" from Mould's successful second band,  Sugar, highlighted the chemistry and musicianship that went into Mould's craft. Daniel's day job in Spoon is about watertight guitar licks and stylish open space,  and while Mould's songs were noisy and volatile,  they were also perfectionist performances, and its was easy to see where a teenage punk had things to learn from Mould even after exploring more minimal sounds.

Craig Finn and Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady and Lifter Puller were obvious descendants of Hüsker Dü's Twin Cities legacy,  and not just geographically. Finn's verbose sing-speak style and Kubler's overdriven open chords each owed big debts to Mould, and their adoring takes on "Real World" and Sugar's "A Good Idea" illustrated how durable Mould's go-to sounds have proved over decades. Comedian Margaret  Cho,  a confessed punk nerd, joined songwriter Grant-Lee Phillips for an endearingly rough-and-tumble version of  Sugar's "Your Favorite Thing," making clear that the band's legacy of devotion to craft and sharp edges extended to other fields.

The Smell lies a few blocks away from Disney Hall, and its flagship artist No Age gave the most up-to-date read of Mould's music (and featured the man himself on "I Apologize" and "In a Free Land"). No Age's trebly thrash put Hüsker Dü's roots on the famed South Bay-based SST label in focus. Mould revealed himself as an expert pop writer (and even as a very capable electronica artist in his Blowoff alias) in his later career, but Hüsker Dü were contemporaries of Black Flag and Circle Jerks, and No Age's barre-chord pummel asserted that  kinship.

Alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams stole the show, however, with the quietest set of the night. His devastating solo acoustic reads of Mould's "Heartbreak a Stranger" and "Black Sheets of Rain" stripped the arrangements bare and revealed the first-rate melodicist  behind them. Adams' own recent, ruminative "Ashes & Fire" wouldn't initially seem to take much from Mould. But Adams is an outspoken punk historian, and it's easy to see his attraction to Mould the writer -- his versions cut to the quick of the deep wells of pain that made these records resonate.

Then Grohl and Mould took over (with Mould's great backing band, featuring  Jon Wurster of Superchunk and Jason Narducy of Telekinesis). For a rowdy and gang-shouting trip through the decades. Hüsker Dü's swaggering "Something I Learned Today" and the plaintive "Hardly Getting Over It" were highlights, but even when Grohl left, Mould's genial gravitas carried "If I Can't Change Your Mind" and "Makes No Sense at All."

Just before parting, Mould mentioned future plans, including a tour of Sugar's "Copper Blue" and a vague hint that he'd like to reunite Hüsker Dü. But after the bring-em-all-back-out closer of "See a Little Light" (where No Age looked absolutely ecstatic to be harmonizing with Mould while Grohl gave them bro hugs), Mould stood onstage, alone in white light, clearly overcome by the standing ovation.  For all the rage and melody that came before, the night ended with nothing but applause.


Bob Mould comes of age

Mould gets a retrospective at Disney Hall

Book review: Bob Mould's 'See A Little Light'

-- August Brown

Photo: Bob Mould. Credit: Noah Kalina.

And now, Ryan Adams' metal countdown show


In a recent profile of Ryan Adams, the now LA-based singer-songwriter mentioned that he was " a huge dork" for the occult, UFO's and such sundry weird tales. Well, he wasn't kidding. Here he hosts a very tongue in cheek public-access style countdown show of black metal videos called "Night Sweats" with, among other things, a talking slice of pizza, and an admission that "Lucky Now" should have been more metal. Which we will grant him.

-August Brown

Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/ LA Times


Ryan Adams is out of the fire

Ryan Adams fans are so devoted they'll take a plea deal for it.

Ryan Adams to play Hollywood Forever show

Album review: Ryan Adams' 'Ashes & Fire'

Album review: Ryan Adams' 'Ashes & Fire'

Beyond Ryan Adams’ well-documented personal life — his marriage to Mandy Moore; his battle with the hearing disorder Meniere’s disease — lies the fleshy heart and soul of a brilliant singer and songwriter. His fragile lyrics and his voice, sounding strong and clear, better than it has in years, twist into a perfect union on “Ashes & Fire.”

Still scrappy and floppy-haired at 36, Adams has released almost one album a year since leaving alt-country band Whiskeytown a decade ago, starting with his first solo album, 2000’s “Heartbreaker.” “Ashes & Fire” recalls the best of “Heartbreaker,” except inverted, matured. Instead of strumming acoustically about the shreds of a relationship, he sings softly and nostalgically about distant youth and a love-filled future: its hopefulness, its vulnerability.

Continue reading »

Ryan Adams' fans are so devoted they'll serve two years' probation

Ryan Adams

This post has been updated. See below for details.

A piece in Sunday's Calendar profiled the alt-country singer Ryan Adams, whose new album, "Ashes & Fire," represents a kind of cleansing for a few difficult years. He plays Hollywood Forever tonight (and godspeed on getting in). As part of researching the piece, I talked with Rob Thomas, moderator of the popular Adams-centric message-board site ToBeYoung.

In 2005, in a case sprearheaded by the RIAA and Universal Music, Thomas was one of two fans who plead guilty to federal copyright violations for posting advance tracks from Adams' 2005 album "Jacksonville City Nights." Yet Thomas still runs the board and maintains a (complicated) affection for Adams' music.

Our short interview is below.

Continue reading »

Ryan Adams to play Hollywood Forever show Oct. 10


For fans of Ryan Adams, a singer-sonwgriter known to release three albums in a single year, the wait for new studio material since his 2008 album "Cardinology" has been interminable (with only a heavy-metal concept album, "Orion," and a 2010 collection of unreleased tracks recorded in 2006, "III/IV," to tide them over).

The wait's over next week with the release of "Ashes & Fire," his first proper solo album recorded after the breakup of his backing band, the Cardinals. Concurrently, Adams just booked a solo date at Hollywood Forever's Masonic Lodge on Oct. 10. The $40 tickets go on sale today at 1 p.m. PDT.

Continue reading »

Dave Grohl, Ben Gibbard and others to honor Bob Mould at Disney Hall


Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman Bob Mould has a new memoir, "See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody," out. It's a reflective and deeply felt tale from the frontlines of America's second wave of punk and Mould's own late-in-life struggles in coming to terms with his homosexuality.

On Nov. 21, some of America's most well-regarded, punk-inspired artists will take to Disney Hall to show how influential Mould's work has been in their own lives. Dave Grohl, Ben Gibbard, Ryan Adams, No Age, Best Coast, members of the Hold Steady, comedian Margaret Cho and Grant-Lee Phillips will join Mould to perform from his catalog and talk about how his blistering, noisy yet melodic and hopeful songs have informed generations of younger artists.

Tickets go  on sale Sunday and range from $29 to $49. To prep, Mould's memoir (co-written with Michael Azerrad, author of the seminal "Our Band Could Be Your Life") would be a fine refresher course.


Book Review: 'See a Little Light' by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad

Bob Mould comes of age at live show in L.A.

No Age turns up the noise

-- August Brown

Photo: Bob Mould. Credit: Noah Kalina


Ryan Adams reacts to Times review


On Friday, Pop & Hiss published a review of Thursday night's Oasis concert at the Staples Center, a piece of criticism that has since elicited a response from opener Ryan Adams, who played that night with his backing band, the Cardinals. Reviewer Mikael Wood praised Adams' recent "Cardinology," but a comment later in Wood's review hit Adams the wrong way, and prompted the artist to respond with a post on his blog.

Here's the portion of the review that concerns Adams, as well as the musician's response to it. First, the review:

Opening the show with his sturdy alt-country backing band the Cardinals, Ryan Adams tried to work a similar mixture of antagonism and affection. Here's another darn sunshiney anthem, he said (in slightly more colorful language) before playing "Go Easy," a typically melancholy cut from this year's fine "Cardinology."

Apparently irritated by the audience's reluctance to receive his music with the hushed reverence it deserves, Adams retreated to sarcasm (not to mention bizarre, possibly booze-fueled ruminations on Jethro Tull and "the tyranny and horrors of math"). As Thursday's headliners demonstrated, though, that's a weapon that requires experience to handle.

Adams was none too pleased with the phrase "possibly booze-fueled," as the artist makes clear that he is now sober, and struggled with substance abuse for 10 years.

Adams writes in a post titled "LA TIMES--Apologize for YOUR REMARK" (the spacing is copied from Adams' post):

I want to stand in the light and even if, even if in the review of OASIS you did not like the music I make as part of a band, you can say that.

but you cannot have my sobriety.

it is MINE and the gift i choose to give to my friends first,

the fans of my and OUR music,


to any kid or adult lost somewhere too, that look, me too, me too,

But the standing here and standing up is the work.

Please remove your comments or apologize for inferring myself or my band members were on substances.

Because you were wrong.

You were every very wrong to take that from us.

As a journalist you don’t have to know the life story of a person.

but in this case,

you were wrong.

Take it back, LA TIMES journalist (if you haven’t already)

Ryan Adams

Here is the Times' review of "Cardinology."

-- Todd Martens

Photo credit: Getty Images


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