American rocker Ryan Adams is probably one of the hardest working musicians in the business. His long career has recently culminated in his latest eponymous release (his 14th solo album), which has received critical acclaim and resulted in 3 Grammy award nominations. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was touring the UK and far more surprised that he had decided to grace Leicester with his presence. Naturally, I had to get a good spot front and centre for his performance.
First off it needs to be said that I was utterly hypnotised by the eclectic stage setup. The giant (yet obviously fake) amps with cardboard cut-outs of cats on top, the fully functioning 80s arcade games, the American flag with a peace symbol on it and even a great big stuffed tiger next to the drum kit. It was one of the most random and bizarre collection of objects I’ve seen on a stage and it totally worked! It certainly acted as a good distraction during the opening act, Natalie Prass. She had a sombre 40s/50s feel to her voice and mostly wore a guitar as decoration rather than actually playing it. Pair that with songs that were very synth heavy and you get a odd combination that really didn’t work for me. It was too much like Lana Del Rey for my liking, sad moody music but without substance. Credit to the keyboardist for his exceptional playing but sadly it wasn’t enough to carry the rest of the band, not even when Ryan himself appeared and helped them out by playing guitar.
Thankfully Ryan excelled when he came back on stage with his own band behind him. The set mostly consisted of the finer points of his latest album, including ‘Stay With Me’, the dreamy acoustic ‘My Wrecking Ball’ and lead single ‘Gimme Something Good’. If I had to compare him to someone it would be Neil Young; but while Neil seems just to operate in the polar opposites of gentle acoustic songs and jarring feedback fuelled rockers, Ryan works with the full spectrum. As well as his latest album we were treated to some of the high points of his discography, including ‘When the Stars Go Blue’, ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and ‘Come Pick Me Up’. One of the highlights of the night was a brand new song entitled ‘Blue Light’ which was one of several songs performed in front of a stunning starry background.
If Ryan ever decided he’d had enough of music I think he’d do a decent job at stand-up comedy. He was endearingly awkward and had a great rapport with his audience which lightened the mood as many songs certainly wouldn’t be described as cheerful. It was a brilliant night and he thoroughly exceeded my expectations. I think he deserves a lot more respect and attention, I have certainly gotten fed up of saying to people “No, not Bryan Adams, Ryan Adams!”… God knows how he deals with it. There was some indescribable element to his music, a certain sincerity that has been missing from most American music in recent years. I’m not all too sure what the “American Dream” actually is, but the America I dream of has more people like Ryan Adams spearheading music.