Ryan Adams. Photo: Rachael Wright

I was ecstatic at the chance to see Ryan Adams on tour in the wake of his new album, Prisoner, knowing what a serious songwriter and musician can throw out onstage. Prisoner, the followup to Adams’ cover album of Taylor Swift’s 1989, can be seen as one of the driving factors, among other life events, that led up to Adams’ current sound. The 16th studio album takes advantage of Adams’ Strat guitar combined with pedals, giving the album a larger electronic sound, hitting higher-end notes, departing from the sound of earlier albums, which were filled with low-end notes that created an alt-country feeling. The new album has a pop-rock element added, which is easy to see from the trajectory of 1989.

Photo courtesy of Ryan AdamsEntering the Eccles Theater, I was greeted by an open-air foyer full of people as sunlight poured in, washing over the dispersed, melancholic crowd. Tickets in hand, I was eager to see what Adams was offering for his tour-only merchandise. All spread out, the merch included images of bright ’70s cartoon cats and Pax-Am record patches. The recent tour imagery looked to be taken from Adams’ jean jacket or one of the many pinball machines he owns. His goofball side was fully embraced in his merchandise, and only five minutes later, I realized that same concept found itself onstage.

Inside the auditorium, blue light cascaded down on the stage as billowing smoke rose up behind a triptych of stacks of electronics arranged in large sets. A pyramid of old tube televisions, rising 12 feet high, stood directly in the middle of the stage, visually hissing at the crowd. Sandwiched between that and the television tower was a mixture of real and overly fake Fender guitar amplifiers, all aglow with a single red light. More groups of televisions, all turned on, were spread around the stage, along with an adornment of stuffed tigers placed about.

Model and singer Karen Elsona surprise opener—took the stage with a treble three-piece band of harp, violin and swaying guitar. Diving into “wonder blind,followed by four other songs from her new album, Double Roses, Elson swept me away with the gentle echo of her vocals, which reminded one of the softer vocals by Sinead O’ Connor. As the set drew out, the vocals picked up right where the violin left off, switching back and forth alongside Elson’s out-of-tune guitar and whaling on up through to their final song, “Why Am I Waiting.”

Once the set was clear of musicians, more smoke was added in the form of burning sage, a further attempt to ritually clear the area of any other entities before the lights dimmed. Adams came on board, along with his new band, opening up the music hall by instantly filling it with “Let It Ride.” It’s a somewhat softer song pulled from the album Cold Roses, except this live version hits harder and louder, replacing the twang of the guitar with the faster tempo and punch of AC/DC that Adams has referenced in the new album.

Moving back to “Magnolia Mountain” from the first disk of Cold Roses, Adams played with the same determination he did in the previous songs, all while every TV simultaneously streamed repeating images of small film clips. The lit-up red amps and energy had pushed all the burned sage into the crowd at this point.

Adams played “To Be Young (is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” at twice the tempo, turning the song into a borderline post-punk sound.

The Grammy Award–winning “Gimme Something Good” (2014), when played live, helps remind us why Adams has become such a magnificent songwriter (often compared to Dylan) and stage performer. The ability to change the tempo and core feeling of a song from sad to happy with a new band should be just one of many indications of the dedication and love Adams has for writing music.

“Prisoner,” off of the eponymous new album, brought down the tone of the show as all the lights were turned off, except for one dramatic light and a small set of white Christmas lights coiled around a microphone, reminiscent of the lit backdrop of 2007’s Easy Tiger recording session. Adams’ acoustic guitar appeared for the first time during the show like a magnet pulling us back to some of his earlier albums, the lyrics and melody. Drawing from similar techniques, “Prisoner” has a strong link and feeling to “Within Your Reach” by The Replacements.

RA_Prisoner-digital“Peaceful Valley” begins simply enough, sounding close to the original song found on Jacksonville City Nights with the beloved Cardinals. The song kicks off out slowly and calmly, moving through a large part of the lyrics until around the last part of the third chorus, when everything starts to change. The band starts a trance-inducing instrumental sound that swells with reverb and psych, and the song derails into a prolonged, five-minute jam session, reaching into Grateful Dead territory.

“Dear John” brings us back down to earth as the show slows to a crawl. The lyrics, “Two silvers rings / One’s on my finger and the other one’s gone / Went underground with you,” help reaffirm that Adams’ emotion and sad tone is still a part of the artist, evoking the same feeling you get from listening to John Prine‘s  “Angel From Montgomery.”

Adams addresses the audience with song requests while a gentleman in the first few rows repeatedly yells out for “Jacksonville Skyline.” The request could have been a whole lot worse, but Adams responds to the man’s request with an oddball, offhand comment—“When I make, you a special lasagna, you don’t ask for a ham sandwich”—alluding to the fact that this man’s request is for a song by a now-extinct band that Adams was a part of, called Whiskeytown.

“Doomsday,” another song from the new album, starts out strong, giving off the vibe of being a followup single to any number of Bruce Springsteen’s early albums. Less than a minute into the song, with an atomic bomb lit up on the televisions Adams waved his hand in a circular motion over his head, signaling the band to quit playing. “Doomsday” flipped from hard electric rock to a solo acoustic set, adding the signature harmonic riffs found at the beginning of the song heard on the album.

Adams ended the night with “Wonderwall” by Oasis, a cover of the mid-’90s song that helped to keep the shoegaze sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain, Slowdive and many more bands in the genre alive. Adams’ version takes the song and strips out what Oasis had built, adopting it completely as his own. As the song ended, and the band left the stage, Adams flashed a peace sign— his signature, followed by, “Peace, we love you.”


Waterproof Walkman Headphones

These little headphones are not your average ear buds. They are a fully waterand sweat-proof (for up to two meters) music playback device with up to eight hours of rechargeable battery life. They have one hour of playback with a short, three-minute charge time, hold up to 4GB or 8GB of memory and an easy computer interface. When you want to add or delete sound files, simply plug in the device then drag and drop an array of sound files you want on the Walkman once it’s connected to your computer, and then you’re ready. The highly comfortable design is combined with a worry free fit to keep the device from falling off your head while amid some of the hardest workouts. Overall, thisisagreatproductwithminimaltono downsides. –Joshua Joye


500 Bluetooth Speaker + Mic

The amount of Bluetooth speakers on the market can be daunting when choosing to upgrade from the ‘03 Dell speakers that accompanied your computer. The Lenovo 500 Bluetooth Speaker rises to the top of an overwhelming sea for two simple reasons. First is the price ($79.99), and second, the quality of sound and design for this price. The Bluetooth connectivity exceeded my expectations compared to other devices on the market. The Lenovo speaker connects effortlessly and easily every time to an array of media-playing devices. By the off chance that one of your devices may not have Bluetooth capabilities—such as a yellow Walkman—the Lenovo provides an audio jack input and cord. In addition to being a wireless speaker, the Lenovo features a clear, quality microphone for hands-free applications along with an unfiltered sound for the person on the other end of a phone call. The Lenovo’s simple silver and black skin conforms to a cylinder with a triangle fin protruding from the circumference of the speaker, allowing it to stand on its end or lay it down on the side. Four rubber feet help keep the speaker from bouncing around when turned up to 11. The four directional “clicky” circular disk button on top allows for simple and easy navigation of all of the Lenovo’s functions. The Lenovo is a great speaker overall. Although, the different beeping sounds and flashing light modes can be a bit confusing when trying to understand what function it is currently performing. –Joshua Joye

Bond By Design: The Art of the James Bond Films

Street: 10.06.15

Of course it’s easy to see why DK released Bond By Design merely weeks before Spectre hit the theaters. The film’s concept art shows up at the end of Bond By Design—a film concept art book built upon Ian Fleming’s spy character “Bond, James Bond.” The 320-page book feels heavy and well made, as if “Q” built its one-eighth-inch thick, gloss-covered chipboard book sleeve and cover to be durable enough to stop any decapitating flying hat. The cover features two dream-like set-design sketches which reflect the content featured throughout 60 percent of the book. In addition, Bond By Design shows beautifully colored storyboard drawings, costume design illustrations and engineer drawings of modified vehicles, plus gadgets from Dr. No to Skyfall. Almost every piece of artwork in the book expresses a wonderful depth of images created with watercolor, charcoal and felt-tip pen. One of many artists, Sir Ken Adam, who created the core film sets from Dr. No to Moonraker, has an immaculate ability to express square footage and perspective through a single architectural sketch. Bond By Design is such an amazing book that it gives you appreciation for the artists who craft the look and feel of each set, action sequence and detail down to the mechanics of all Bond’s gadgets. I highly recommend taking a look inside this book.

Top 5 Graywhale Albums

Hey there, audiophile—you looking to dig deeper for your collection? You can find albums in this list at Graywhale Entertainment, written by a certified Graywhale employee.

Graywhale Entertainment

King Dude
Songs of Flesh and Blood – In The Key of Light

CTD / Not Just Religious Music
Street: 06.30
King Dude = Johnny Cash + Chelsea Wolfe + Nick Cave

Graywhale employees see you moving across hallowed audio ground and hear your references to Chelsea Wolfe’s discography about death, blood and darkness. It’s impressive to find you straying so far from the norm of the sonic flock, but maybe it’s time to go beyond … Don’t resist—just succumb: Let King Dude take you deeper into darkness with high priest of gothic folk TJ Cowgill’s haunting vocals that curdle souls with grief, death and despair. “Death Won’t Take Me” sets the tone for the album with the slow, venomous sounds of Cowgill’s voice oozing out raspy, snake-charmer lyrics set next to a Twin Peaks–style, eerie piano key progression, choked to a higher octave. Songs of Flesh and Blood is grounded by the sorrow found in Nick Cave’s classic album The Boatman’s Call, distilled by The Handsome Family’s dark ballads. King Dude calls upon bipolar extremes, mixing rock n’ roll with soft pipe organ hymns that bleed out on a single note through the duration of “I Don’t Want To Dream Anymore.” Only after being slowly dragged beneath atmospheric keys tangled in lightly brushed Gretsch guitar strings—with only song lyrics and vocals keeping the mind from dissipating into the ether—can the album be fully understood. With a swift cut to “Holy Water,” the spirit of Ennio Morricone gushes out sounds of slightly aggro spaghetti western ballads. With nothing left, King Dude kills the listener softly with “You Know My Lord,” offering an airy piano progression along with vocals of gravel strewn down a deep well. Pick up King Dude’s latest album, Songs of Flesh and Blood, at multiple Graywhale Entertainment locations across the valley for the low price of $12.99 on CD and $19.99 on vinyl. Ask how you can get $1 off this album and all of King Dude’s future albums with a Killerwhale Membership.

Graywhale Entertainment

Insect Ark
Portal / Well

Street 6.8
Insect Ark = Horseback + Nadja + Jesu

Insect Ark stands within the genre of “homework drone.” The music can keep listeners focused and centered while studying (which is uncommon) with the sounds of Dana Schechter, solo artist who created the Portal / Well on her own by mixing a melodic lap steel, moaning synthesizer built upon a strong bass all hammered together with computerized drum beats. Schechter brings long, drawn-out, heavy tones echoing in a range of octaves over the course of Portal / Well as a baseline current for the album. The lap steel’s sounds found throughout Portal / Well creates the keystone to that baseline current, though it’s hard to discern after it passes through an array of pedals. These sounds recall the violin work found in pre-2013 CicadasPortal / Well is not an easy find at the local Graywhale Entertainment, but if you do find this rare CD hold on to it and don’t forget to ask about the option to special order rare finds such as Insect Ark.


Kamasi Washington
The Epic

Street: 05.05
Kamasi Washington = Soul Jazz + Smooth Jazz + “70s Fusion Jazz

To be honest the jazz and blue note sections at Graywhale here a hard time enticing non-jazz visitors searching for “epic” music. Naming an album The Epic definitely helps entice listeners into the vast jazz genre, but a name is just a name until Kamasi Washington delivers on that name. Saxophonist Washington can certainly deliver as the Karl Malone of jazz music, giving any listener three hours of outstanding playing time. After listening to the entire set (more than once), it’s easy to see how The Epic plays homage to plenty of the greats like John ColtraneMiles Davis and, of course, Weather Report, all while Washington’s adventuring out into his own realm of jazz, and in conjunction, blurring the lines within the sub-genre. If you’re not into jazz music, let Washington be your gateway into the scene. Next time you’re in a Graywhale Entertainment store visit the jazz section and look into picking up something truly epic.

Graywhale Entertainment

Steve Gunn and the Black Twig Pickers
Seasonal Hire

Thrill Jockey
Street: 2.24
Steve Gunn and the Black Twig Pickers = Kurt Vile + Doc Watson – Any Vocals

When Steve Gunn’s name comes up in a Graywhale store, most patrons have no idea what employees are talking about. In addition, mentions of The Black Twig Pickers elicit little more than blank stares. Although, if we mention that Steve was one of the Violators for Kurt Vile’s band, one might think they have an idea of the sound for this album, but this is not the case. Much like being a violator, Steve has set himself up as one of The Black Twig Pickers on Seasonal Hire, allowing for the thick sounds of the Appalachian Mountains to present themselves in the form of banjos, guitars, fiddles, harmonica and the odd but beautiful sounds of the mouth harp. If you’re interested, find Seasonal Hire in the indie section of most Graywhale Entertainment locations.

Graywhale Entertainment

Dengue Fever
The Deepest Lake

Tuk Tuk Records
Street: 01.27
Dengue Fever = The Doors + 13th Floor Elevators + Cambodian oldies

Nowadays, as ‘00s raised adults continue to push the retro cycle on the music timeline the dial has reached and passed ‘60s psychedelic and garage rock, leaving a tie-dyed heap of psychedelic bands. Dengue Fever could be considered one of those ‘60s psychedelic bands if it wasn’t for the high amounts of Cambodian influence injected by Chhom Nimol, the vocalist who sings Khmer-language lyrics. Dengue Fever creates a classic organ sound reminiscent of “Light My Fire” along with smokey drumbeats—and tamborine. Listen closely, and the sounds of Bollywood can be heard in the guitar throughout the album. If you’re interested, find The Deepest Lake in the world section of most Graywhale Entertainment locations.

15 Top 5 Albums
^ Check out the full list of SLUG Magazine’s ’15 Top 5 Albums! ^