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Concert Review: Ryan Adams

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The Sage, Gateshead
Tuesday 14th February

“It’s Valentines Day, so if you’re here that must make you a bunch of sad bastards.” It seems Ryan Adams isn’t going to win any awards for witty repartee this year but, to be fair, he’s not far from the truth. Either you’ve come to Ryan’s solo acoustic show because you’re a miserable loner with no love-life worth speaking about, or you’re currently on the most misguided date of your life. Wasting what’s supposed to be the Most Romantic Night Of The Year on an evening of maudlin acoustica about break-ups, ruined relationships, ex-girlfriends and general heartache? It’s not exactly flowers, chocs and rampant all-night sex, now, is it?

Surprisingly, given that he’s currently Mr Lindsay Lohan Someone and his fabled Doherty-esque inability to turn up, that doesn’t seem to put him off. Kicking off promisingly with a spirited run-through of Cold Roses‘ “Let It Ride”, it’s soon obvious the set-list has been junked from the start. As Ryan begins leafing distractedly through a folder full of songs, riven with indecision, the urge to shout “just f—ing play something” is almost too much.

There’s a fine line between being endearingly inept and a total bloody shambles. For most of tonight, Ryan, cutting a lone figure on the sparsely decorated stage, and sporting the kind of ’70s game-show jacket not seen since Bob Monkhouse carked it, walks it like a tightrope. Which way he falls is anyone’s guess.

For every song played, there’s a five minute interlude of hopeless dithering, head scratching and self-deprecating banter. It may all be warmly received, Ryan distractedly telling stories about various relatives, the joys of long-haul flights and ruminating over how to inveigle himself into ’80s chart pap singer Billy Ocean’s affections, but a more vocal and less sycophantic audience might have torn him a new asshole by now.

When he actually does play, apart from a choice smattering of new stuff, the majority of the set is culled from last year’s triplet of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights and 29. Most are battered out, Ryan hunched over an acoustic guitar, with only an occasional harmonica interlude. A duo of new tracks, “Two” and “Two Hearts”, both the kind of downbeat miserablism that wouldn’t have been out of place on Love Is Hell, may be greeted with rapturous applause but for some sections of the audience it’s all too much. Pleading heckles of “play something we know” visibly hit an uncomfortable mark; so he does. A breathtaking final trio of “Sylvia Plath”, “Magnolia Mountain” and “Strawberry Wine” provide a stunning climax that not only sees Ryan pull the gig back from the brink but sends the audience out into a dank February night with goosebumps.

He may be messed up beyond his years and wracked with crippling levels of self-doubt but when Ryan brings his A-game no one can touch him. Tonight was almost certainly a half-assed shambles; but a glorious one.

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About Greg Smyth

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Sir Smyth… are you trying to tell me the man played “Strawberry Wine” for you and you are able to sit at some type of electronic typing device and make it function. I would have immediately fallen into a despair so severe so as to never be able to move again.

    Forgive the slight hyperbole. “Strawberry Wine” is only one of the most extraordinary songs in the man’s canon. I can’t believe he played it. That’s just amazing! I could not possibly be more jealous.

    That would have made the frustrations of the rest of the night well worth it.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    If he had played “Dear Chicago” along with “Strawberry Wine” I probably would have become the puddle of despair I just referenced.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    DJR, that was the first time I’d heard Strawberry Wine and I now totally understand where you’re coming from. Goosebumps, I tell ya.

  • http://URL Nick

    I saw Ryan on Tuesday in Bristol, he lopes onto the stage half an hour late like a verbally abused high school teacher late for class, he then after fiddling with a red folder lights one of a about 10 fags he puffs throughout the evening and launches into a new song at the piano; that has all the qualities you expect.

    During the next hour the level of frustration rises to such a level that some of the audiance leave in tears, others resort to “please just F**king play something- which encourages Ryan to produce ‘I can see monsters’ on an electric guitar (brilliant), Dear Chicargo(which he starts twice) (brilliant) and then ‘Come pick me up’the show has now caught fire and he has the crowd just where he wants them -he knows just what to do he has a vast talent and it is all just too easy.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    He does have a catalog of songs to pull from in an evening, doesn’t he?

    I think 29 is a terrific record. Bought it the day it came out and while it didn’t hit me immediately it is now on par with his other discs for me. “Strawberry Wine” might well be in his Top 5 from where I am sitting. “Dear Chicago” as well.

    I hope he plays nearby someday.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Greg, I haven’t caught one of your reviews for too long of a spell. This is simply fantastic, loved every word of it! And my limited exposure to Adams was absolutely enhanced by this great visceral run through !

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Cheers, EB. Very nice of you to pour such kind words on my purple prose.