It was a culmination of a lot of things that made the evening what it was. There was a tension surrounding the fact that it was Adams’ first show with a band for four years – a point he himself touched on with nervous humour. The venue gave a sense of grandeur, but Adams managed to make it feel intimate and warm. The musicianship was inspirationally accomplished and the band had an almost telepathic relationship with Adams and a feel for the songs that would normally take years to develop. Most importantly – Adams was on song. His wit was unrelenting, his charm disarming and his relationship with the crowd was one of respect and humility. He also happens to have written some of the most beautiful songs composed within the past couple of decades.
He opened with Dirty Rain – safe ground but wonderfully performed. It was clear the Adams was up for it. From the start it was obvious that the band would give the songs a lift, without stifling them. He had, ‘all the way from Stonehenge’ Ethan Johns on lead guitar, ‘Texan’ Cindy Cashdollar on pedal steel, Don Was on bass, the ‘heartbreaker’ Benmont Tench on keys and Noel Gallagher’s Jeremy Stacey on drums. They were a band of country players that performed the set with style. Ryan himself said at the end of the show that they played his songs better than anyone before.
There were moments of impromptu brilliance. Following one crowd member’s apparent cry of ‘Loaf of Bread’ there followed a complete song formed around this concept. The band was led through a composition that climaxed with a rejection of the ‘crust’ rhymed with layers of ‘rust’. It had the crowd in raptures and epitomised Adams’ playful relationship with the audience and his music. It was a brilliant use of comedy to juxtapose the theme of emotional rawness and sentimental romanticism that comes with much of Adams’ work.
As promised he played new songs – two to be precise. Where I Meet You in my Mind sat very comfortably as a progression to something on ‘Ashes and Fire’ – a plodding number that sat on a groove and a strong melody. In the Shadows was more upbeat and perhaps gave more of an indication of where the next, yet to be publically named, record will go. It was bluesy and guitar driven. The song was introduced with a ‘setting of the scene’. We were told to imagine ‘A vampire driving a Cadillac on his way to hunt a werewolf on the edge of town’. It was an apt preamble. It’ll be fascinating to see how these songs can exist together on an album – that said, both had an undeniable edge of familiarity. Despite having electric guitar I don’t think that we are going to see Adams ‘go electric’ in a Dylanesque move.
At about two thirds of the way through the show the band left to allow a three-song acoustic section. Nestled between In The Shadows and English Girls Approximately was Oh My Sweet Carolina – a crowd favourite that has developed an almost ‘classic’ status. It was performed with sensitivity and emotion, plucked tenderly and subtly on his signature red white and blue guitar.
The band then came back to complete the set without an encore. We saw an improvised instrumental section in Nobody Girl – adorned with a whopping guitar solo from Johns. This epic demonstration of instrumental virtuosity was swiftly and erroneously claimed by a grinning and gleeful Adams.
I have long held the belief that it is impossible to award 10/10. Perfection is something abstract and untouchable. I will therefore reserve this prophetic rating for my review of the second coming of Jesus Christ and give, with ease and confidence, a 9.5/10 to Ryan Adams for this performance. He nailed it.