The pervasive narrative surrounding the discography of Ryan Adams — a man who has become synonymous with crippling amounts of self-awareness — is one, really, of despondency.
His 2000 debut album, aptly titled Heartbreaker, softly wavered between dejection and nullified rage. Tracks like “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” “My Winding Wheel” and “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)” underscored the singer-songwriter’s subdued devastation. Over the course of his career, Adams’ records have served as the barometer when it comes to pinpointing not only his creative but emotional journey.
Five years later, his 29 LP outlined his steps to critical and reflective self-realization. Orion (2010) threw all of his sonic inhibitions to the wind, and his 2014 self-titled record was as stripped down and transparent as he’s ever been. Prisoner, released this past February, is yet another chapter in his life that showcases the polarizing ideals of love and loneliness. Songs are sprawled out elegiacally as Adams makes sense—and art—out of his perpetually rueful state.
When it comes to his live show, though, he either hits the nail on the head or narrowly misses the mark. This past Wednesday (May 10) at Boston’s Blue Hills Bank Pavilion, his determination to blast through the first few songs of his set felt thrilling yet brisk.
Opener “Do You Still Love Me?” came off as rapturous and hasty; “Gimme Something Good” and “Doomsday” eventually followed suit. The best parts of the night were when Adams slowed down enough to relish them. Surrounded by a projection of stars and old stacked televisions displaying static as their only visual, he finally opened up for “Prisoner” by singing his heart out into a microphone wrapped in holiday lights for a searing solo; he was vulnerable, sumptuous, and present.
He also managed to unravel for “Wonderwall,” “Kim” and “When Stars Go Blue.” His energy was still engaging and downright impressive, but during his steadier instances he was completely unstoppable. Unlike other his concerts, Adams kept his commentary — and crowd banter — to a scarce minimum.
At a fan’s insistence, he clarified his actual age (turns out it’s 42) and even professed his appreciation of this city despite sliding into one of his most enthralling anthems, “New York, New York.” “Come Pick Me Up” was revealed as the night’s closer, and reminded everyone how much more fulfilling certain moments can be when you remember to enjoy them.