Ryan Adams: O2 Academy, Leeds

O2 Academy in Leeds was packed with people of all ages eagerly anticipating a rare chance to witness the genius of Ryan Adams. From the moment you entered the venue there were posters dotted all over explaining that the bar would shut five minutes before tonight’s performance began, at “the artists request”, a move which the venue cunningly counteracted by offering two pint, and even four pint, glasses. As the bar shut a lady, whom I presume to have been Ryan’s tour manager, arrived on stage to give a short speech, explaining that any flash photography could trigger Ryan’s Meniere’s disease, which would result in the show having to be stopped short. The fans gathered in that room were so appreciative of his talent, and respectful of his work, that there was absolutely no chance anyone would risk spoiling an opportunity to see him live.

Before the public information announcement, the crowd were treated to an incredibly famous, although not yet for her music, support act. At moments Karen Elson had the crowd spellbound with her ethereal, yet powerful, and mesmeric vocals layered over soothing musical tones. Elson is at her best when producing dreamy and tender folk-pop, which tonight’s performance emphasised, but she also showed she is more than capable of turning her hand to a variety of other genres. I would imagine that right now most people are aware of Karen for her glittering modelling career, or possibly even just for formerly being married to Jack White, but judging on this display all that is set to change and she will soon, rightfully, be known as a fantastic singer/songwriter who models on the side.

The room then descended into darkness and Ryan Adams and his band emerged from the smoke which flooded the stage. From the first few bars of opening number “Do You Still Love Me?” it was evident that Adams and his band were determined to put on a show. He hammers his flying-V guitar during the stuttered and explosive nature of this track. This opening offer pretty much summed up how the rest of the evening was about to unfold. Poignant and, at times, heart-breaking lyrics, delivered via flawless vocals, and a terrific band adding extra oomph the rock inspired segments of Ryan Adams’ music. He has an impressive back catalogue which incorporates a variety of genres, all of which were expertly portrayed and emphasised.

This tour was originally planned for earlier in the year, but then rescheduled after it was cancelled for personal reasons. With his reputation for occasionally being a grumpy stage presence, plus his recent personal issues, expectations of his mood may not have been high. This turned out to be far from the reality as Adams was on fine form, he seemed upbeat as he cracked jokes and chatted to the audience, he was evidently enjoying being back on stage and giving it his all. He wasn’t just on top form in term of his demeanour, his performance and that of his band were of the highest quality during the two-hour set. They wowed the audience with extended versions of tracks that were reminiscent of exploratory jamming sessions, complete with big Rock ‘n’ Roll endings. My personal highlight was a stunning rendition of “Prisoner” which began with Ryan Adams playing solo under a spotlight, the delicate and deeply emotive lyrics were excellently brought to life by his faultless and impressive vocals, before the rest of the band joined in for a big rousing finish.

(Main image courtesy of Andrew Benge from Green Man Festival, August 2017)