Favourite Live Acts: Ryan Adams
By Tim Larsen
It has become a bit of a cliché to call Ryan Adams prolific, but it’s certainly true – since his first solo album in 2000, Heartbreaker, he has averaged one official release a year, plus far more unreleased/unofficial albums of new material. Two albums are due out next year, and in the meantime there are singles and EPs being released once a month. Of course, with that description comes the criticism of being told that too much is being released; that an editor is needed. Whilst inevitably some releases are stronger than others, there is a pretty strong consistency; my favourite period would probably be the three albums released in 2005 (one solo and two with his band The Cardinals). This enormous back catalogue of songs can make for very interesting and unexpected song choices at live shows.
Thankfully, despite a large portion of his songs being of the ‘sad-bastard’ singer-songwriter vein, the concerts are often very interactive and entertaining – most of them now seem to contain very funny improvised songs about anything from cats to pizzas; audience requests for Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer of 69’ are a frequent amusement. He often whacks out slowed down acoustic covers in concerts, most famously Oasis’s Wonderwall and now, within the last week, he has released a full studio cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. His music has been influenced by a wide-ranging set of artists – after the inevitable ‘next Dylan’ tag (something which is placed on seemingly every promising male songwriter with an acoustic guitar), there’s been Smiths-inspired work (Love is Hell in particular), 80s hardcore music such as Husker Du (the recent 1984 EP) and The Grateful Dead (Cold Roses) amongst many others.
I’ve been pretty lucky, considering his dedicated cult following, to get to the front row for all of the standing concerts I’ve been to so far – from Manchester down to Brighton. Being able to hear the band talking to each other without the microphones makes the experience a lot more intimate when it’s one of your favourite acts. His solo acoustic tours are incredible – all 1000-2000 people are so transfixed and silent that you can hear the squeak of his piano stool. That may sound boring to some, but with the kind of songs being played on guitar and piano, the atmosphere is perfect. The electric gigs with his band The Shining are a lot more relaxed and free-flowing – they’ve often remarked that they had got stoned just before playing. Being able to hear some of my favourite songs such as Dirty Rain and La Cienega Just Smiled with a really tight band along with astonishing vocals is just so much better than listening to the album recordings.
My favourite of the five concerts of his I’ve been to would probably be a London gig from around a year ago. It contained many of my absolute favourites with some great new songs and the band (with Johnny Depp playing during the encore) were in great form. As for now, though, I look forward to the next tour and can’t wait to go through it all again.