John Daglish

00:00 22nd January 2004

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Ryan Adams – man or myth, legend or loser?

Like Neil Young before him, Ryan Adams is prolific and profound.  You could probably add prodigious and promiscuous to that list thanks to his ever growing list of side projects, but enough of the pros, what about the cons?  Could it be a lack of professionalism?  It’s quite clear that despite his immense talent, he’s not prepared to put himself through the rigours of promotional work demanded by the modern music industry. This week has seen a stilted appearance on Today with Des and Mel, walk outs from radio sessions and a last minute cancellation of tonight’s press guest list.  Most Ryan Adams gigs have an air of the unexpected, but with rumours flying about 3 hour sets and suicide alerts, Gigwise made sure we would find out what would happen next.

Ryan’s first appearance comes halfway though support act Jesse Malin’s set, playing drums, and he couldn’t look less like the supposed troubled rock star if he tried.  He throws rock poses, laughs when the bass player hits a bum note, and seems to be having a whale of a time just playing music.  When he returns for his own set however, things are different.  Hidden behind a huge hooded top and lit from behind, he makes for a shadowy figure as he leads his five piece band through a quick fire selection from 'Rock N Roll', the album which wears it’s dumb heart on it’s sleeve and, intentionally or not, has done the most to cause unrest among his longest serving fans.  It seems that people don’t want the fantastic extended guitar jam that closes '1974', or the best Smiths song written since 1987 ('Does Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?').  As one wag so wittily heckles “Enough of this rock and roll shit, play something good”.  Ryan seems unsettled by this as 'Miss America' abruptly halts halfway through, a pattern that repeats itself until he leaves the stage forty five minutes into the set, following a crowd pleasing run through of the proverbial old song, 'To Be Young'.

When he returns alone with his acoustic guitar, anticipation rises, but there is a dull chatter present through the songs he debuts from 'Love Is Hell Part 2', and it takes the familiar 'La Cienaga Just Smiled' to bring the deserved hush.  When Ryan performs solo, you can see the talent oozing from every pore.  The picking is perfect, the voice sublime and every song hits home in it’s own precise way - the beautiful 'I See Monsters', the yearning of 'Come Pick Me Up', even the turning of the Strokes’ 'Last Nite' into a bluegrass gem.  When the band return halfway through a slow paced New York, New York it seems that Ryan is finally loosening up.  He utters his first words to the crowd (over an hour into the set), thanking them for coming and listening and shows that he had been paying attention by removing the “cocksucker” who had heckled him from his thanks.

Playing things by ear now, it looks like Ryan will play all night.  Seemingly on a whim he clears the band from the stage bar the keyboard player and the aching 'Sylvia Plath' sees him climbing the PA stack and peering over the edge to the joy of the crowd.  He returns to earth quite safely this time.  It is during 'The Shadowlands' that things come to a halt however.  As the band return to play out the song, Ryan seems to slip backwards, the microphone hits the floor with a sickening thud and after singing the final line he utters the words “I think it’s broken”.  After being helped to his feet he is rushed from the stage and after a confused closing of the song from the band is quickly wrapped up Johnny T, Ryan’s drummer informs us that it looks like he’s broken his wrist and that it might be the last gig for a while.

So what did Gigwise learn tonight?  Ryan Adams is a star that refuses to become brighter than he needs to.  It’s clear that he loves making music, and it would be a shame to lose such a talent to the rigmaroles of selling records.  Long may he shine.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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