Review: Ryan Adams delights the die-hards with marathon Hippodrome show

Considering Ryan Adams’ mid-1990s incarnation as lead singer for alt-country band Whiskeytown, it’s an almost thirty year career that precedes tonight’s lengthy, solo acoustic spotlight. Since hitting a commercial peak with his 2001 sophomore record Gold, the North Carolina born singer-songwriter has incurred a maelstrom of professional excellence and personal struggle. An acclaimed career and producer credits for, among others, Willie Nelson and Jenny Lewis has intertwined with alcohol and drug additions, interpersonal beefs and controversies, and a diagnosis of Meniere’s disease. (The latter explaining tonight’s pervasive pre-show signage indicating that flash-photography is off limits).

Adams enters stage right and fully embraces the rapturous reception from the near 2,000 capacity audience, before a female cry of “I love you, Ryan” is heard above the fading applause. The stage dimly lit by eight varyingly sized lamps, Adams is in near silhouette as he begins with ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’. The beautiful ode to his home state is carried to a close, without the keys or strings of the recorded version, by Adams’ jarringly lonesome harmonica.

Three songs in, Adams jokes that this is his “first time in Argentina” before immediately clawing it back with some effusive praise toward his host city. He describes Bristol as “mystically beautiful” but then comments upon an impatient waitress at The Ivy and the sighting of a fellow diner eating his “own boogers”. This is shortly after he barks into the air after a sip of his post-addiction tipple of lemon juice. It’s an interlude that encapsulates Adams well: quick to humour, rather eccentric, keen to share, and teetering on the edge of hyperbole and earnestness.

In a performance that spans, intermission included, close to three hours, there’s no doubting Adams’ commitment to the gig and impassioned delivery of his material. ‘Rescue Blues’ is just one of many examples of Adams’ voice ageing rather well, particularly with the song’s closing big falsetto. The upbeat folk of ‘Winding Wheel’ energetically chugs like a freight train and another falsetto finish induces the largest audience appreciation of the night thus far.

‘Dirty Rain’ features Adams’ dextrous, bluesy acoustic hammer-ons and is a lovely, melancholic reflection on change. He then sheds half of his double denim to reveal an N.W.A t-shirt before introducing ‘Two’ as originally written in the style of a Big Bill Broonzy song. Now conceding that it was nothing of the sort, he performs an apparently impromptu interpretation – including an improvised lyric about the man who ate his booger at The Ivy – of what it would’ve sounded like if it actually had sounded like Broonzy.

Adams occasionally sits at the piano between his interchanging acoustic guitars; ‘New York, New York’ (its video famous for featuring the old New York skyline just four days before it changed forever on 9/11) is one example of the difference between Adams’ live interpretations and their recorded cousins. Later, he deftly picks out the piano melody of the enduringly exquisite ‘Moon River’ but something is lost in his staccato vocal phrasing.

Revisiting what has become an enduring theme, Adams conspires a social media skit with the audience as he gets us to rowdily cheer following his declaring “Then I saw him eat his own boogers!” What looks like Adams’ Instagram account then watches on from a table as he broadcasts most of the remainder of the show. The second half setlists on this current tour have been characteristic for featuring multiple cover versions but, beforehand, there’s further highlights from Adams’ catalogue: ‘When The Stars Go Blue’ features a beautifully finger-picked four chord motif and perhaps the most impressive demand on Adams’ vocals. ‘Firecracker’ is further evidence of the captivating melodies from the Gold era and, stating that he sings a song for his late brother Chris at every show, he performs ‘Prisoner’ in tribute.

There’s a discerning choice of cover songs in the form of a lightly strummed version of Daniel Johnstone’s ‘True Love Will Find You In The End’, a subdued retelling of Oasis’ ‘Some Might Say’ (Adams, amusingly, grimaces and shakes his head when singing Noel Gallagher’s nonsense lyric “and my dog’s been itching, itching in the kitchen once again”), and a side of stage, unmiked rendition of Hank Williams’ excellent ‘Lovesick Blues.’

A full appreciation of such a long evening of acoustic tunes, shed of their multi-instrumental sheen, certainly lies within the domain of the die-hard fan. However, Adams – as he departs to a partial standing ovation – has left nothing in the room save a resounding statement as to his musical talents.

Scott Hammond