An ethereal talent with a worshipful fan-base, Ryan Adams is one of those artists that crops up very occasionally and perches on a musical pedestal almost regardless of direction or performance quality – he has earned that right.
The prolific Jacksonville songwriter has journeyed through it all: from Whiskeytown and early album alt. country beginnings; being thrust into the relative spotlight after 2001′s widely acclaimed Gold; masterminding one of the best covers of all time; raising a middle finger with Rock N’ Roll and a “fully-realized sci-fi metal concept album”; to where he seems to be resting now, at relative ease.
His most recent release, 2011′s Ashes & Fire is arguably one of the most complete and a wonderful return to form after the self-confessed regrettable Cardinals collaboration III/IV. Live tours with this album were stunning, stripped-back acoustic affairs but lacked the embellishment of a band that Adams fans craved since the disbanding of the Cardinals.
Then the news came – Ryan Adams was to perform live with a band for the first time in more than 4 years and new material was to be unveiled at the Royal Albert Hall, as part of a week of shows curated by Noel Gallagher in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust. In it’s 13th year, these series of hand-picked performances have featured some of the biggest names in music, and this year is no exception; Damon Albarn, Paul Weller and Gallagher himself making up some of the other headliners.
So the stage was set and the iconic venue is brimming with excitement, following a warm-up of folk niceness from Beth Orton. “I know you’re not used to music this fast, so put your racing helmets on,” Adams jokingly emerges before slipping into ‘Dirty Rain’ and ‘Ashes & Fire’ from the latest record. Immediately, the fullness of the band evokes smiles; whirring organ from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers founding-member Benmont Trench, upright bass, carefully distorted punctuation and sliding double-8 guitar paint a full picture and add expression to the otherwise acoustic numbers.
Famous for moods bordering on the bipolar, Adams is known for storming off or not uttering a word during live shows, but it feels like he has found comfort in dry wit and genuinely amusing interaction; “Loaf of bread?” he replies to one of the handful barking out requests, “I don’t think we’re playing that one tonight?” Nevertheless, this is one request he does oblige; Adams and the whole band break into a improvised rendition of ‘Loaf of Bread’ that, besides its crust-related lyrics, would fit seamlessly on any of his 13 studio albums.
What’s more, ‘Fix It’ and a new blues-heavy creation titled ‘In the Shadows’, described as sounding like a “vampire driving a Cadillac kill a werewolf”, give him the opportunity to display underrated electric guitar playing. Chunky wah-wah and conversational riffs lead up to one of the highlights of the night, as ‘Nobody Girl’ gets a surprise outing and turns into another typically tight jam from a band that look like they’ve been performing together for years. Ethan Johns, who has worked with the likes of Ray LaMontagne, Laura Marling and produced Ryan Adams’ debut Heartbreaker, thrashes out an immaculate solo, which Adams, in jest, takes credit for.