There’s always a slight edge to the build-up to a Ryan Adams show. As wonderful as he is (and he really, really is extremely wonderful - one of the finest singer-songwriters of his generation), his reputation for being unpredictable and sometimes tetchy precedes him.
And so tonight, hit with the double whammy of the most corporate of all festivals - the month-long iTunes residency in Camden - and Adams’ declaration that he completely lost his voice earlier in the day (he’s had so much cortisone, he says, that he feels like the Incredible Hulk), it could go either way.
Luckily, it goes one way - straight up to the stars. Of course, the snark of old is still there, but it’s delivered with a twinkle in the eye, and as with his hero Morrissey, we’d be sort of disappointed if he suddenly lost his mean streak, so perfectly pitched for the British sense of humour. And so, a couple of days after his own shows across town for his most ardent fans (complete with Johnny Depp guest appearance, something that’s not repeated this evening, alas), his withering put-downs to the cool response from some of the blaggers here tonight (“I’m so glad we spent so much time on the new material, you love it so much”) are somehow sweet in their comedy sourness.
But all of that is by the by. As it stands, he is charm personified, but he could have come out here and called us all a bunch of arseholes and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest, because his set is absolutely magical. It does lean heavily on his self-titled new album, and so it should, because it’s a thing of clear-eyed beauty that needs to be aired as much as possible. Despite the sore throat, his voice is as drenched with emotion as ever, the slight husky edge adding a rawness to smoky, stomping, Tom Petty-tinged classic rock opener Gimme Something Good. And when he does resigned sadness, as he does so very well, the whole room feels it to the core, the sighing, countryfied My Sweet Carolina and heartbreaking standouts from the new record Kim and My Wrecking Ball surging with a delicate power, delivered with such sincerity, it would take the hardest of hearts not to be moved. Now on his 14th solo album, Adams has refined his craft to perfection, meaning the huge catalogue he has to chose from and a bloody minded absence of the perceived hits (New York, New York et al) makes this a truly special and unique experience. It’s not all melancholy though. A stunning falsetto in The Door (“it’s not available on iTunes, you can only get it on RyTunes!”) is met with celebration and relief from the lurgy stricken star and his super slick band, while a wildly electrified Rats In The Wall betrays his punk rock background.
He’s an interesting character - funny, smart and determined, a gloriously scruffy figure in his denim jacket and Batman shirt, bird’s nest hair silhouetted against the American flag backdrop. But most of all, he’s the man responsible for some of the most beautiful songs you will ever hear, songs that, once you’ve let them in, will stick with you like family for the rest of your life. And tonight, illness be damned, he does them proud.