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:: Ryan Adams ::
28 September 2006 / Academy 1 / Manchester
By James Hinchcliffe

Tales of woe in respect of Ryan Adams live shows - ranging from the incidental or trivial to the more serious no-show or alcohol-fuelled blowout - are somewhat rife so it's with good faith and several crossed-fingers that you sign up to the latest leg of his unpredictable touring circus. However, the good news, we're told, is that he's off the sauce and with erstwhile backing band The Cardinals in tow to keep him in check. What's more, together they're touring last year's excellent "Cold roses" and decent "Jacksonville City nights", along with 3 alleged LPs worth of new material (shock) and whatever choice cuts from the very fine (if poorly edited) Adams songbook he may choose to give a rare airing - this all assuming internet tales of threats to play "29" from start to finish (aired, I believe, in the run-up to a London show but you just never can tell) prove wayward. So far, so good.

First glimpse of The Cardinals proves them to be competent as opposed to mindblowing; the pedal steel is at times overpowering as opposed to the subtle instrument of great effect it invariably should be and guitar and rhythm section are no better or worse than any half-decent country-rock act you suspect you'd chance upon in some roadside bar in a Southern American backwater. And Adams' voice isn't all it can be either - powerful and rangey on record but neutered at least a little in the flesh, by what means and devices I can't quite fathom. Ironically, given tales of his lengthy and laudable clean-up act it seems as though tonight he's smoothed out too many rough edges and - much like any of those "bad boy" footballers with a dark side to their genius we hear so much about - he's lost that spark, that tiny frisson of danger and unpredictably he "needs" to perform at the highest level. And so it comes to pass, sadly, that he plays the bulk of this show as though he's one yellow card away from suspension.

The late Steve Irwin would have a field day here too; boy, he's grumpy! Perhaps he's (understandably) uncomfortable with or embarrassed by his often overly-devoted audience (shouts of "We love you Ryan!" are all too frequent) and so offers little between numbers save the odd mumbled, half-humourous retort to a song request or a very curt "I'm f---ing busy" to one particular punter. A love-in this most certainly isn't.

There are highlights, though - a marvellous "Magnolia mountain" to kick off, extended through one very welcome pedal steel-laden closing jam extra, a fully-charged "Beautiful sorta", a passionate "A kiss before I go" and a full-blooded "Cold roses", star turn and band clicking particularly well for the latter. But at a set clocking in at just under 2 hours it's a modest return. Ultimately Adams is a stubborn and selfish performer; the bulk of the problem is that he has far too much output - a lot of it quite inauspicious - and merely focusing on current and impending material must always be a risk, the danger being that, as tonight, the show pans out as a glorified rehearsal.

The crowd generously (occasionally even rapturously) applaud from start to finish - even following the tedious Doors-esque wig-out about two thirds through that pretty much sums up the night. It's a frustrating watch - anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the guy's work knows he's a truly gifted singer/songwriter. Under the watchful gaze of his public, however, he remains a less than vital prospect.

Ryan Adams

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