Aside from writing a shed-load of quality tunes, Ryan Adams has also provided one of the best musical soap operas of the last decade. Heroin and cocaine binges, injuring himself by falling off the stage and angry, self-righteous phone calls to critical journalists have helped lay the musician and the man bare alongside the 13 studio albums released since his debut in 2001. He would never have made it through the security gates at a serene Falconer Salen on a Monday night. Too much baggage.
The very mixed crowd was wowed by Adams from the word go. Shuffling onstage looking like a pissed-off adolescent with open shirt and frothy hair, he launched straight into a stripped down version of ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’. A couple of tracks from his latest album, 2011’s return-to-form Ashes and Fire then follow. Unlike when I saw him in 2005 (when he was, to use one of his track titles ‘drunk and f**ked up’), he seems very much the at-peace former wild child, an artist who can now also delve into his musical archive without snagging unwanted memories on the way down.
If he’s a modern day Dylan on the guitar and harmonica, he’s an edgier Tom Waits on the ivory keyboard. A jaw-dropping version of ‘The Rescue Blues’ stirs from the piano mid-set, as does a successfully rockier ‘Winding Wheel’. ‘New York, New York’ and ‘Firecracker’ are two earlier, more upbeat tracks which also get the shaken up.
"I’ll do a ballad now, we haven’t had many of those," comes the introduction to one song. At this point, oddly, begins a sideshow which sees Adams talk to the laughing crowd about an imaginary heavy metal band he’s in, and about monsters and aliens. Is it funny? Parts. Other bits are painful. However, this is the licence fans grant to Adams. Irritating and compelling in equal measure, it’s a sort of a glimpse into the mind’s eye of a flawed genius. You bear it because of the music.
His penultimate song is his incredible cover of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ from his Love is Hell album. It’s a version that even Noel Gallagher himself once praised and tonight still sounds as tormented as ever. After this, and another stoned-teenager-in-bedroom moment where he spends five full minutes moving his table items across the stage, he returns for a two-song encore, ending with the rousing ‘Come Pick Me Up’.
Everyone around my age in the crowd has grown up with Ryan Adams whether they know it or not – though not everyone has now got their shit together in the same way. 2012’s Adams is a more mature one who has reprised his songwriting ability and honesty. The evening’s show, and with it his guitar playing and gravelly voice, is faultless despite not being his best, and everyone in Falconer Salen, whether passing or more involved fans, is hooked. This soap opera has taken an absorbing new twist.