“I could’ve brought two guitars, but then there wouldn’t have been enough room for all my problems”

Live Review: Ryan Adams, An Acoustic Performance – The Dome, Brighton, 22.06.11
Supported by Jesse Malin

I’ve been meaning, praying, to see Ryan Adams for so long now but have always been impeded by exams, monetary issues and other practical admin-type bollocks, so I refused to miss him yet again this year. After a little hiatus from touring and the musical world, Mr Adams is touring with a one-man-and-his-guitar-piano-and-occasional-harmonica show.

Adams is supported by Jesse Malin, a long time friend and collaborator, who performs acoustic versions of his own punky/rocky tunes. Each song has a funny or interesting story behind it, of which Malin informs the audience with wit and fervour (a courtesy he extends to his songs). Malin has a really powerful voice perfectly suited to the style of music he plays, and he exudes rock n’roll. He also seems like a nice bloke, and hangs around at the merch table after the show to greet fans. All good stuff.

On to the main event: a somewhat muted Mr Adams comes on stage to raucous applause from the seated audience, he’s quiet and it seems as if he’s in a bad mood as he launches into his first song (I don’t remember what that was, helpfully). One thing that is clear from the off is that Adams has one of those voices which sounds even better live than on record, with a wonderful tone to it, all of which creates a totally commanding stage presence.

It’s not until two songs in when he explains the reason for his melancholic mood: his grandmother ‘who practically raised me’ had died just before coming out on tour and so he dedicates ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ to her. And bloody hell, it is the most beautiful, emotive performance I’ve seen in quite a while – it had me in tears (and FYI I’m not the sort to cry at gigs).

Adams performs ‘Oh my sweet carolina’ live (from 2005)

Finally, Adams opens up to the crowd and he’s equally as witty, amusing and charming as he is self-deprecating, shy and prickly…the phrase ‘fucked up genius’ springs to mind…Adams lives and breathes it. With stage banter like ‘This fuckin stool feels like it’s about break and go down…just like the rest of my career’ and ‘Has anybody ever drank bong water before?’ and ‘I could’ve brought two guitars but there wouldn’t have been enough room for all my problems’ Adams, despite all the odds, manages to create a real rapport with the crowd, which makes the gig feel altogether more intimate.

There are running jokes too: Adams seems paranoid that people are leaving (maybe they are, but maybe they’re just going for a wee) and likens the gig to an Agatha Christie novel centred around a ‘mystery train’ where characters repeatedly go missing. Plus, he’s always whispering encouragement to his guitar which refuses to be tuned; it’s all very endearing.

The set list is a Ryan Adams fanatic’s dream, with a wide variety of songs from his rather prolific back-catalogue up for grabs. Highlights for me include ‘Winding Wheel’ and ‘Come Pick Me Up’ which gives me the chills with its big, powerful chorus. We also get a stripped down and slower, sadder version of ‘New York,New York’ which (although not a favourite of mine) is rather stunning. And for those fanatics out there – we got TWO, yes TWO, Whiskeytown songs: ‘Jacksonville Skyline’ and ‘Houses on the Hill’.

As Mr Adams leaves the stage (after a 2 hour set!), the crowd are completely won over and calling out, stamping their feet, for an encore. The very last song he plays is ‘Strawberry Wine’: a beautifully fragile performance that leaves me breathless. On his final exit from the stage, Ryan Adams knows he’s pulled a blinder and so do the audience, with everyone in the auditorium giving him a simply raucous standing ovation. Ryan Adams doesn’t need a full band to showcase his consummate song writing abilities and exquisite voice – he just needs belief in himself, and a rather stubborn guitar. What a treat.

Ryan Adams Official Website

Words & Photo: PM

Incomplete set list in no particular order (feel free to comment & add to!):
Oh my Sweet Carolina
Come Pick Me Up
Winding Wheel
Everybody Knows
Rescue Blues
Let it Ride
New York, New York
Sylvia Plath
Bartering Lines
Jacksonville Skyline
Houses on the Hill
Strawberry Wine

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