The Apollo Victoria
Going to see Ryan Adams is a bit of a hit and miss affair. He could be either on the top of his game, or a heartbreakingly shambolic mess – and that’s if he even turns up. The last two times I’ve had tickets to see him he’s bailed, once due to falling headfirst off the stage at Manchester and almost severing his arm in the orchestra pit, and the other time a mysterious ‘illness’ which was reported to be a little too much playtime with class As. Rumours have already splintered off from his UK tour of him appearing dazed, trailing off songs and slurring his words. No one likes to see their hero fail, and so it’s with a nervous reticence that I look forward to the show.
But show up he did. And what a show he laid on for the hundreds of fans at this sold out show. As he walks out on the large stage the applause is thundering and he looks taken aback. Nodding and smiling self consciously he sits down with his acoustic guitar and without a word is off. ‘My Winding Wheel’ is clear and perfect; words perfectly formed and spun out over the audience. ‘Sweet Lil Gal’ and ‘Why Do They Leave’ are poignant. ‘Lover..why do they leave..at the time you needed them so.’ he sings softly. Silence settles. One lone person claps.
‘Oh hell..nice to see I still have a fan. I love my one fan’ Ryan quips..and then he’s off. ‘I’ve been told I’m not meant to speak tonight,’ he tells us, grinning as he lights another ever present cigarette, ‘But I’m drunk, so I’m speaking….’ Every person hangs on his every word, his every look, a raised eyebrow brings howls of laughter, he tells off his guitar for a wrong chord, muttering to himself and the audience react to every word. He strums a few notes then stops to chat again. A favourite topic is the haters online who complain about his live performances being unregulated and improvised “I mean…they should chill out …smoke some week…get some pot…’ he shrugs, reading and then accidentally dropping his notebook.
‘Lighthouses‘ is prefixed with a long, random story of how his grandmother killed herself in an old people’s home by pressing her pain relief morphine drip too many times in protest to moving rooms. Adams quips that if only it was so easy for him…he has to leave the house, get a cab and go find a dealer for his fix. We laugh with him, but it’s an uneasy black humour. The man on stage is dripping with talent, but you can’t help wonder where it’ll all end, the online rumour merchants spin out yarns of serious drug abuse that you hope isn’t true. Can it have a happy ending? But without his demons – would his songs mean anything? Would his lyrics lose their dark humour and bittersweet reality? Right on cue a police siren screams outside and he grins ‘Ah shit…they’re coming for me!’
‘Sylvia Path’ and ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’ are both stripped down to perfection. He fades into an acoustic version of ‘New York, New York’ but gives up. ‘I just want to talk!’ Sitting astride his piano st! ool he’s endearing, witty, earnest and funny. He’s confused as to why his fans are still there for him, admitting ‘I’m baffled…totally baffled why you guys still come out for me. It’s been a difficult couple of years….so thank you.’
‘Call Me on Your Way Back Home’ stands out for me as the track of the night. There’s a solemn break in his voice, a fragility that catches you. ‘Call Me on Your way back home..cos I miss you. And I just wanna die without you..or I just wanna die with you’ – the words hang in the air, for a moment no one moves, no one claps, as though it would shatter the moment.
After over 2 and a half hours he introduces his last track, the wonderful honky tonk ‘Come Pick Me Up’ with it’s rolling melancholy chorus of ‘Come pick me up
Take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends.. they’re all full of shit, with a smile on your face …and then do it again.” Tonight on stage we have a! charmer, the joker – the man with more talent on his little finger than half the acts out there. He makes them look like amateurs. Armed with an endless supply of material his singing is effortless; stripped down to just a piano, guitar and a harmonica he spins out perfect melodies laced with lyrics that stay with you for days afterwards.
Love him or hate him, tonight at least Ryan Adams shines, taking his rightful place as one of the most charismatic and engaging performers of our generation. You take your chances on him, and when the payback is this good..it’s almost worth the disappointment of previous years.
Ryan’s latest album ’29’ is out now on Mercury. For further information knock yourself out at www.ryan-adams.com