November 2, 2001
Ryan Adams : London Shepherds Bush empire
A set dominated by upbeat country-rock, most of it bland in the extreme...
Ryan Adams used to be great fun. His early gigs, and those he did with his old band Whiskeytown, were brilliantly chaotic affairs. He'd get hammered onstage, play oddball covers, throw temper tantrums - all kinds of crazy shit would happen, and you never knew what was coming next. Sadly, that's all in the past now.
Adams, you see, has gone all sensible on us. And much like his new album 'Gold' tonight's set is too slick, too mannered and too long. New songs like 'Firecracker' and 'When The Stars Go Blue' are drowned in pedal-steel schmaltz, while older material fails to survive the attentions of an over-jealous sax-player he's unwisely recruited.
The man himself repeatedly apologises for not being 'the sad guy' anymore, insisting that he now prefers 'ass-shaking rock 'n'roll'. And that, really, is the crux of the problem. When it comes to dark, melancholy songs like 'Nobody's Girl', Adams is magnificent. But tonight's set is dominated by upbeat country-rock, most of it bland in the extreme. Indeed, when he plays the impossibly trite 'Somehow, Someday' that friendship with Elton John suddenly makes perfect sense.
Towards the end of the main set, Adams rallies briefly with passionate, euphoric versions of
'Rescue Blues' and 'New York New York', and the response inside the packed venue is truly devotional.
So devotional, in fact, that the hero of the hour chooses to return for a mammoth eight-song encore. It is this part of the show that really sets the alarm bells ringing. It's profoundly tedious, and confirms fears that Adams has mutated into a mature, professional artiste, barely recognisable from the endearing hell-raiser of old. Perhaps fittingly, the night's dullest track, a piano-led version of
'The Bar Is A Beautiful Place' is dedicated to Beth Orton with whom Adams has apparently been 'collaborating'.
Of course, it's abundantly clear that his new-found popularity has done Ryan Adams the world of good, and that he's probably a happier and more stable person than he's ever been. But the unfortunate truth is that, as far as great music is concerned, redemption ain't always what it's cracked up to be.
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