Home Live Review Live Review: Ruston Kelly @ Sixth & I — 4/21/24

Live Review: Ruston Kelly @ Sixth & I — 4/21/24

Live Review: Ruston Kelly @ Sixth & I — 4/21/24
Ruston Kelly performs at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC on April 21, 2024. (Photo by James Todd Miller)

Alluding to his divorce from fellow musician Kacey Musgraves, Ruston Kelly recently told the audience at the Historic Synagogue at Sixth & I about how, the moment he started pulling his shit together, his life fell apart.

I can relate: a few weeks ago — on a Sunday, in fact — I recommitted myself to healthy eating and exercising, only to wake up just past midnight on April Fools’ Day with intense abdominal pain radiating into my back. I ended up at the ER, where they at first suspected I might have gallstones; I was lucky to get off with just gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), caused by taking too much naproxen.

Ruston, who’s been very open about his struggles with substances, could probably relate to this, judging from his remarks at Sixth & I on April 21. Introducing “Michael Keaton,” he talked about how, suffering from insomnia, he took CBD to fall asleep, believing it couldn’t get him high. He was wrong about that: He tripped out, and when he regained his senses, he discovered he’d recorded this song on his phone.

Born in Georgetown, South Carolina, Kelly grew up all the over country, eventually moving Nashville to pursue a career in music. He first made a mark as a songwriter, with his tunes being recorded by Tim McGraw and Josh Abbott. After signing with Razor & Tie, he released his debut EP, Halloween, in 2017. Moving to Rounder, he released his first full-length album, Dying Star, the following year. The EP Dirt Emo, vol. 1, which married his love of country and emo, appeared in 2019, and his sophomore LP, Shape & Destroy, came out in 2020. His latest album, The Weakness, was released last year.

Stream The Weakness by Ruston Kelly on Spotify:

Ruston opened his set with an interesting choice: a cover of Canadian producer and songwriter Daniel Lanois’s “The Maker.” It was the first of three very different covers he played, along with a snipped from the 1975’s “Part of the Band” and the Carter Family’s “Weeping Willow.”

After the opening cover, Kelly told the audience how much loves the venue and had been looking forward to playing there all tour. The show continued with “Cover My Tracks,” “In The Blue,” and “Under the Sun.” He then switched to the piano to play “Belly of the Beast,” followed by “Closest Thing,” “The Watcher,” and “Clean,” which details his struggles with substance abuse.

“All I ever wanted to do,” Kelly told the audience, “was play my music for people who give a shit.” The audience certainly gave a shit, were perhaps a little too engaged, feeling the need to get involved by shouting things at Ruston between sings. This was, frankly, not that kind of show, and it was a little distracting. He handled it well though, responding to these interruptions with quick, clever comebacks, not letting the show get hijacked.

During the set, he also talked about his plans for future music, specifically, his fourth album. While he’s not going to try to recreate his earlier work, he will be working again with the producer from his first album.

After “Clean,” the set continued with “Faceplant” and “Rubber.” “Michael Keaton” was followed by “Baby,” and the cover of the Carter Family led into “Brave.” The set rounded out with “Cardboard Crown,” “Mockingbird,” “Holy Shit,” and “Radio Cloud.” Kelly began his encore with a new song, then finished up the evening by playing “Hollywood” and “Mercury.”

Even with the audience’s interruptions, this was a great show: The songs were terrific, displaying a lot of honesty, vulnerability, and reflection. Kelly isn’t afraid to get deep and personal, to write songs that expose himself. There’s a saying that, in writing the things that are most personal to you, you write the things that connect the most with other people, and that’s proven to be true in Ruston Kelly’s work.

Here are some photos of Ruston Kelly performing at Sixth & I on April 21, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of James Todd Miller.

1 - Ruston Kelly - 21 April 2024 - Sixth & I - Photo by James Todd Miller for Parklife DC
2 - Ruston Kelly - 21 April 2023 - Sixth & I - Photo by James Todd Miller for Parklife DC


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