Gig review: Ryan Adams at O2 Academy Leeds

Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams
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The last time Ryan Adams played in Leeds he appeared to be uninterested and disengaged from the music.

The prolific North Carolina musician is like a man reborn tonight, strapping on a flying-V guitar for the opening statement of intent ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ In unapologetic classic rock mode, the track testifies to the slogan on his merchandise: ‘I’m a metal-head but I play sad music’.

It’s this underlying sadness that’s seen him bridge his well documented love of Morrissey – themes of loneliness and heartache are shot through his lyrics – with that of hard rock. In this spirit ‘I Just Might’ has the thundering guitar lines of AC/DC and the heavy blues of closing number ‘Shakedown On 9th Street’ – on which support act Karen Elson adds vocals – splutters into action like The Stooges.

His guitar god posturing plays on this heaviness, with the likes of ‘Invisible Riverside’ and ‘Magnolia Mountain’ doubled in length by jams with his four-piece band. Tracks are also re-worked to fit in with the set’s style, with the plangent country of ‘Cold Roses’ becoming a slab of monolithic rock.

It’s frequently when he pulls in the reins that he makes the most impact. Swapping to an acoustic guitar and moving to a mic stand that’s wrapped in fairy lights, he brings intimacy and palpable heart to the opening section of ‘Prisoner’. ‘When The Stars Go Blue’ likewise switches dynamics, with his band only joining Adams at the mid-point.

With emotional resonance like that he doesn’t need to rely on half-hearted stage props for impact: stuffed tigers littering the stage and a bank of underused television sets spilling out static and mushroom clouds.

The arrangements may lack the subtlety of his best work but the 24-song set demonstrates a man who’s regained his fire and clear enjoyment of being on stage.

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