Ryan Adams


WARNING: I am a Ryan Adams fan boy, so this review will mainly be a gushing fan letter to one of the greatest songwriters of the last 20 years. With that out the way, and you duly forewarned, let’s continue…

I love Ryan Adams. There, I said it. He came into my life just at the right time; it was 2001 and I was 18, I was leaving the village I’d lived in for my entire life to move 350 miles away to Bournemouth for Uni. The Strokes were just recalibrating indie music as we knew it, I’d bought my first pair of non-boot cut jeans, and I’d also acquired a copy of Adams’ second solo LP Gold, and I was instantly in love. I thought it was (and still, to some extent do) the best singer-songwriter album I had ever heard. Pre-iPod times, I carried the CD around with me everywhere in my backpack, playing the likes of ‘Sylvia Plath’, ‘La Cienega Just Smiled’ and ‘Harder Now That It’s Over’ on repeat for months and months. Then I discovered he had a debut album, and that album was the untouchable Heartbreaker and I was in deep. I was obsessed. This was the time he was ridiculously prolific, releasing album after album, and I hoovered them all up, greedily pouring over tales of heartbreak and good old fashioned rock and roll. He was my Dylan, McCartney and Young rolled into one, and I’ve continued to buy everything he’s done, even through the leaner periods of albums like Easy Tiger and Ashes and Fire which I don’t think many people would agree were his finest hour.

I’ve seen him A LOT too, from tiny gigs (I was lucky enough to get into the 300 capacity Soup Kitchen this January when he held an impromptu gig before the release of this year’s Prisoner, to huge, only-just-smaller-than-arena venues; from just him with a piano and acoustic guitar to him with a full backing band, I’ve seen most iterations of him over the years. One thing you can guarantee from a Ryan Adams show is that he pour his heart and soul into it and make damn sure you have a good time, and tonight’s sold out show at the Apollo, again in support of the brilliant Prisoner, delivers on that promise.

It’s full band Adams mode tonight, and what a band they are. I believe the phase is ‘tight as fuck’, but I’m not a musician so I could be wrong. Tonight they are hell bent on putting on a ROCK show, and they deliver in spades. Opening with a pretty untouchable holy trinity of ‘Do You Still Love Me’, ‘To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)’ and ‘Gimme Something Good’, the riffs fly, the lights soar, and Adams, thrashing at a Flying V guitar, is every bit the rock and roll front man he’s always wanted to be, and always has been. We’re not in the arena, but this is an arena sized show; the lights are spectacular, the 80s TV screens and towering amp stage props are pure theatre, and Adams and the band are here to blast us away with reworked classics and new songs alike.

We get a massive, 27 song career spanning set amongst the sprinkling of new songs from Prisoner, some of which, like the title track, are retooled for a full band so that they blow you away with their power. ‘Breakdown’ rocks so hard I can’t stop grinning, ‘Dirty Rain’ is just badass, and for ‘When the Stars Go Blue’ the whole venue is lit by, yes, a blue light reflecting gorgeously off the mirror ball on the ceiling, and it’s kind of magical. At one point, Adams declares that “this is as fun as sad music will ever be”, and he’s right; these songs are about heartbreak, but tonight you barely notice because you’re having such a fun time rocking out. Inevitably with such a huge set, there are moments where deep cuts from albums that aren’t amongst my favourites mean there are dips in the action, but even during these his band are so brilliant that it’s never less than captivating.

As he finished with a holy trinity, so he ends with one. A spectacular run of ‘New York, New York’, ‘Come Pick Me Up’ and a riotous ‘Shakedown On 9th Street’ sends me into the chilly night with a smile on my face a mile wide. Tonight we got Rock Ryan and, as much as I adore his acoustic forays on albums, I don’t think I could have asked for anything more from him for this show. He’s still one of our finest living songwriters, and on the evidence of tonight, he’s fast becoming one of our finest performers too. Here to the next 17 years Ryan…

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