Live Review

Ryan Adams, Union Chapel, London

If it weren’t from the constant interruptions from outside the stage, we’d be reaching for ‘perfect’ as a suitable adjective.

If one person’s experiences are anything to go by (and for this purpose, they are), then one Ryan Adams gig is not like another. From buying a case of beer to distribute among the front few rows in Amsterdam to a ten-minute-plus monologue talking both about and to a cardboard cut-out of Chewbacca, even the note-perfect, stripped-down performance this summer at the Barbican was in itself unpredictable: he didn’t write a song as he was singing it that time.

Tonight’s main detour comes courtesy of the many, many interruptions from those wanting to hear particular songs. “He’s not a jukebox!” one angry fan yells back after countless yelps of ‘Nobody Girl’, ‘The Rescue Blues’, and yes – ‘Wonderwall’ – are heard echoing around the gorgeous surroundings of Islington’s Union Chapel. ‘Dear Chicago’ is one request answered during the encore, somewhat humorously as Ryan repeatedly maintains he’s unable to play the song any more while well in to its guitar intro. That’s nothing on the shout of “go on Twitter for a reason!” (we think) met with “I’m half deaf, it sounded like ‘cold jumper for a reason’!” and consequently an impromptu song of that name unfolding in front of us. Yeah, you probably had to be there.

In fact, you really did. Ryan’s vocals are stronger than ever, more assured, belying his awkward, sheepish on-stage demeanour. The songs are performed as delicately as the one-man show he’s touring as would suggest, but unlike the summer’s outing, there’s a playful, harder edge on show; ‘English Girls Approximately’ has particular bite. He may have suggested his days of rocking out under his own name are over, but underneath you can’t help but wonder if he’d rather be amped up with a few pedals, too.

There’s a good balance between new and old on show – songs from recent Top Ten release ‘Ashes & Fire’ mix with ‘New York, New York”s classy piano treatment, ‘Come Pick Me Up’ is peppered with apologies to ‘him upstairs’, and a timely inclusion of the pretty ‘Halloween’. There’s even space for a trio of Whiskeytown tracks to be included.

If it weren’t from the constant interruptions from outside the stage, we’d be reaching for ‘perfect’ as a suitable adjective, as even the newest additions to Ryan’s repertoire already feel like old friends, as warm and embracing as anything from ‘Heartbreaker’ ever has been. However, one’s live experience is not only what happens in front of us. Watching him wince while shouts of ‘I love you!’ and random whooping cut through the otherwise respectful silence isn’t comfortable – and, after a while, the shouting becomes rather irritating. That said, you can’t blame an artist for their fans, and the strange possessiveness and one-upmanship from the pews ultimately doesn’t attract from an extremely entertaining evening.

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