The last time Ryan Adams played in Liverpool, he fell off the stage in the city’s Royal Court theatre.
It was an incident that was referred to plenty tonight, including calls from the audience of “stay on the stage Ryan lad” as soon as he appeared in the luxurious Philharmonic Hall.
A sparsely decorated stage (piano, two guitars, a couple of chairs and a table with candles on) set the scene perfectly for Adams’ solo gig – there were no Cardinals, who accompanied Adams on last year’s Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. Instead, this was the Adams of Heartbreaker and 29, all stripped down, minor chord-heavy songs.
After an enforced delay due to traffic problems, Adams ambled on stage and sat at the piano to play new song Don’t Get Sentimental On Me. It takes some chutzpah to start a set with a brand new song, especially when you’ve released three albums worth of material in the previous twelve months, but Adams pulls it off.
Swapping between piano and acoustic guitar, Adams ran through his more downbeat highlights, including a gorgeous Sweet Lil Gal (23rd/1st) and a mesmerising version of Heartbreaker’s Call Me On Your Way Back Home. Please Do Not Let Me Go was also a standout, especially after an amusing introduction where Adams decided to swap guitars after playing the opening few chords.
In between songs, Adams ambled around the stage, occasionally sipping wine and flicking through a book as if to decide what song to play next. The laidback, borderline shambolic approach didn’t appeal to some: “hey Ryan, do you wanna be ‘ere or what?” one heckler shouted during a particularly long pause between songs. Quick as a flash, Adams looked up and said “sure, I’ll have a beer…”
If you’re coming to see Ryan Adams though, you should expect a degree of unpredictability – halfway through the second half, Adams pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and exclaimed “oh, there’s the set list” as if to illustrate the point. Half the beauty of watching him is that you’re not entirely sure whether the whole show’s going to fall apart. It never does, thanks mainly to the man’s charisma.
The second half of the show saw Adams strap on an electric guitar (prompting a Dylan-referencing cry of “Judas!” from one wag in the audience) and drummer Brad Pemberton joined him on stage. The second half was a bit more rocky, with gems such as Let It Ride and a blistering good Shakedown On 9th Street being dusted down for the evening.
Adams’ onstage banter didn’t become any less bizarre during the second half – grabbing a banana, he pretended to phone new girlfriend Lindsay Lohan and told the audience that his secret new lover was in fact Billy Ocean. Best of all was a long, rambling anecdote about how Slayer‘s tour manager managed Adams for a brief couple of weeks – “He’d managed Van Halen and Slayer…I scared him off after a couple of weeks!” he gleefully noted.
There was also a winning thread of self-deprecation running through the evening – “I screw up all my relationships” he hummed while tuning up his guitar, and frequently taking the mickey out of his own falsetto. Also, one couldn’t help but by endeared by the way he religiously said “bless you” mid-song to anyone who sneezed, and how he berated a member of staff for forcing someone to sit down during Let It Ride – “the customer is always right, remember that” said Adams.
Yet it was the songs that were the evening’s main draw – To Be Young To Be Sad was greeted ecstatically by the faithful, as was one of Cold Roses’ highlights, Sweet Illusions. With a man with so much back catalogue to take his pick from there were inevitably going to be people disappointed by the omissions – there was no La Cienega Just Smiled (despite repeated cries for it), no New York New York, no Wonderwall and nothing at all from Rock N Roll (luckily, some may say…).
He even scarpered off stage without an encore, but it was impossible to be disappointed with the performance. It may have been a bit shambolic, some may even have called it unprofessional, but if you want a smooth flawless, dare I say bland, performance, then go to see James Blunt. This was Ryan Adams at his eccentric best, and it doesn’t get much better than that.