It may sound like a cliché to claim that the Opera House Concert Hall is the venue Ryan Adams was born to play, but his gig there on the 21st of July proved that the space and the performer complement each other in tremendously exciting ways. After all, there has always been an element of tragic grandeur to Adams’ music, a kind of epic heartbreak found in the chords of a song like Oh My Sweet Carolina, the tune with which Adams began the proceedings. There’s incredible beauty to the music the man makes, but there is also destruction and danger mixed up in there too, and with the wall behind him lit up by hundreds of tiny lights, Adams looked like he was playing in the middle of a valley on fire, or in the dark recesses of space itself.
To say that Adams gave it his all as a performer is an understatement. At one point he claimed that he had spent the whole day selecting the set list, and the scope of the songs he played indicated he wasn’t in any way exaggerating. He played Gimme Something Good from his recent, spectacular self-titled album, but he also played older numbers; cuts from Heartbreaker, Gold and Love Is Hell. A heartfelt performance of English Girls Approximately was followed shortly by the titular track from Ashes and Fire, which was in turn followed by a devastating performance of Sylvia Plath. He took the audience on a winding road through his own back catalogue, neglecting little, giving a great deal.
Highlights were too many to mention, though his blistering performance of My Winding Wheel that stunned the audience into temporary silence certainly provided a very special moment, as did his soulful piano version of New York, New York.
If Ryan Adams’ career has been defined by one thing, it’s that he’s the kind of performer whose career has been defined by no single thing. He never stays still – he’s a poet and a prankster and a punk and a prophet, and thrillingly his banter during the show touched on all of these disparate elements. He instructed some children he spotted in the front row never to swear; he described a woman whose face was being lit up by her mobile as a Sith lord; and he encouraged the audience to remind him if he forgot to play a certain number. In short, there was no pretension or artificiality to his performance. He appeared as he was; chatty, friendly, darkly funny, and totally committed to his audience. The ‘difficult’ Ryan Adams – a character that increasingly seems like a media spun myth – was nowhere to be seen.
Adams finished the set with a version of Come Pick Me Up so haunting that the only sounds to be heard between the chords were the squeak of Adams’ leather guitar strap, and one got the distinct impression that every member of the audience was holding their breath. When he was done, the entire Opera House leapt to their feet. Later, Adams took to twitter, telling his followers exactly how much the show had meant to him. He can rest assured that the feeling was mutual. After all, as we sat there in the dark for two hours, watching the man give it his all, Ryan Adams became for us the entire world.