Adams, Ryan : Los Angeles Wiltern Theatre

...occasionally crappy, but for the most part inspired...

Some musicians are just plain exasperating. Look at Badly Drawn Boy, with his three hour sets and willingness to ruin all his best songs by singing in a funny voice. Likewise Ryan Adams. For every enchanting moment on his ‘Heartbreaker’ album, there is the overproduced pompousness of ‘Gold’. For every aching self-confessional song, there are those nauseatingly chummy photocalls with Elton John. For every breathtaking acoustic show, there’s another that’s a sloppy, self-indulgent mess.

Tonight Adams is true to form. Thumbs up for a radiant ‘My Winding Wheel’. Thumbs down for the version of ‘To Be Young’ that veers too close to bloated Southern rock. Thumbs down also for ‘Rescue Blues’, which is just self-satisfied AOR. But thumbs up for the heavenly swirl of ‘Sweet Lil Gal’, where the piano chords hang in the air with a haunting grace. It goes on.

There’s no disputing that tonight’s stripped back line-up – featuring Adams on acoustic guitar and augmented by a string section – is a welcome return. It adds a haunting splendor to ‘Dear Chicago’ and ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and even much maligned tracks from ‘Gold’, like ‘La Cienega Just Smiled’ are made classic-sounding. Admittedly, the cover of The Rolling Stones‘ ‘Brown Sugar’ could go and the less said about ‘Like a Virgin’ (with Adams playing guitar and wailing over a Madonna 12″) the better. But a steadfast refusal to be distracted by the tiresome ‘Summer of 1969’ requests and a magical rendition of ‘Tomorrow’ are redemption enough.

Outside they’re selling T-shirts proclaiming “Ryan Adams Sucks”. This might be a bit strong. How about “Ryan Adams – occasionally crappy, but for the most part inspired”?

Jason Reynolds