Ryan Adams

The folk rocker turned it up to 11 at Manchester Apollo,
14 September

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At the age of 42, Ryan Adams has a discography to envy. Since his formative days in the band Whiskeytown, the North Carolina-born singer-songwriter has produced an extensive back catalogue as a solo artist: 16 studio albums over the past 17 years, four of which were recorded with his former band, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals.

His latest album, Prisoner, was released earlier this year to great praise and was the first since his public divorce from the fellow musician Mandy Moore. Adams has always worn his heart on his sleeve and the record candidly charts him coming to terms with events.

Backed by a new touring band, his first Manchester show in three years (after promoting his previous self-titled album at the Albert Hall) saw a stage piled high with stacks of amps, unsubtly hinting that he would be turning things “up to 11”.

Recent single Do You Still Love Me? commenced the show. As a spotlight shone down on Adams, choral organ sounds introduced the song’s passionate laments. “What can I say?/I didn’t want it to change/But in my mind/It’s all so strange,” he sang, showcasing his regret, before a classic rock hook punctuated the chorus.

This was followed by To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High) from his debut album Heartbreaker, rewinding to the very beginning. Its country-folk sound was electrified in Dylan-esque fashion and this approach continued throughout the staggering 26 tracks performed.

Gimme Something Good displayed a sound that embraced that of the similarly named singer Bryan Adams (a confusion that was a constant frustration during his early career). This House Is Not For Sale followed and the raw vocal emotion of his storytelling cut through the song’s glistening guitar work superbly.

A trio of tracks from Prisoner, performed back to back, exhibited a distinctly Bruce Springsteen feel but were in no way an imitation. After impressive renditions of Outbound Train and Doomsday featuring his electric guitar, Adams moved to the front of the stage to perform with his acoustic guitar. He stood under the spotlight once more, beginning with little accompaniment and reducing the crowd to silence. He then retreated halfway through the performance as his band accompanied him for its impressive finale.

Adams regularly reworked the low-key recordings of his earlier work. Dirty Rain was a case in point: the reflective tale of going back home slowly built into a full-on noise ensemble. He had similar fun with other tracks, such as Fix It and Magnolia Mountain, reinterpreting the old into something new and fresh sounding.

It stood out that Adams didn’t speak between songs as much as he typically does but when he did was full of charisma. On several occasions he shot down redundant and indecipherable cries from the crowd with superior wit. He seemed far more focused on his music.

As the show began to clock in at the 90 minute mark, there were several moments that could’ve been the ideal point for a short break, followed by the inevitable encore, but Adams instead opted to continue without rest. Whilst admirable, the decision felt flawed, with the sense of anticipation regrettably being lost ahead of a strong selection of final tracks.

After the brutally honest lyrics of To Be Without You (another track from Prisoner), Adams played the crowd-pleasing New York, New York, the song by which many fans discovered him back in 2001. The band’s increased amplification arguably overshadowed the song’s arrangement more than necessary, but its signature riff and vocal delivery thankfully remained intact. To compensate, as the final notes were played, Adams seamlessly blended into the harmonica-led intro of the next track, Come Pick Me Up. It was an excellent rendition of another fan favourite, strengthened by the backing vocals of Karen Elson, the evening’s support act.

The show’s final song, Shakedown on 9th Street, was audibly strong but visually weak, whether intentional or not. As Adams, Elson and the band rattled through the unapologetic foot-stomper, bellows of smoke from the machine on stage completely impaired the crowd’s vision for the remainder of the song. After two enjoyable hours of music, this made for a puzzling end to the performance as they said their goodbyes to blinded spectators.

But despite Adams being out of sight during the show’s final moments, he won’t be out of his fans’ mind any time soon.

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