Reviewed onTuesday December 6
Ryan Adams had only just finished introducing his band, the assortment of ultra-stylish musos recruited to record his new album Prisoner, when one of the night’s many hecklers called out. “Who are you?” they bellowed drunkenly. Everyone’s a comedian at an Adams show – including the musician himself – so the heckler was undoubtedly trying to be funny, but in the search for a jibe they stumbled across a valid question, one that has kept critics busy for decades now.
Who is Ryan Adams? Is he the man who recorded the stark yet pop hook-heavy Rock N Roll? Or the alt-country troubadour responsible for quietly defiant songs like ‘Peaceful Valley’? Is he the shaggy-haired heartbreaker who, at his last Enmore theatre appearance, blistered through an uncharacteristically heavy set with minimal chat? Or is he the performer who took to the Opera House stage a few years back, taking selfies and laughing about orcs and Sith lords with an audience lapping up every moment?
Initially, it seemed like his Tuesday night show wasn’t going to offer any concrete answers – though whatever Adams he resembled, he was certainly in fine form, proving eager to throw out the map and go off-road. A gag about the thematic similarity between his songs led to an improvised number about his love of toast and Joy Division bootlegs, and songs like ‘Magnolia Mountain’ were transformed into long, riff-heavy numbers that teetered thrillingly on the edge of collapse.
New material was peppered all the way through, with the bold, damaged songs boasting titles such as ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Prisoner’. Oddly enough, in some ways the tunes most closely resembled numbers from his underrated and oft-ignored heavy metal record, Orion, but in terms of lyrical content they seemed cut from the same tear-and-spit-stained cloth of Cold Roses.
So there’s the rub again; the range of musical personalities we talk about when we talk about Ryan Adams laid bare. But as ‘Gimme Something Good’ rear-ended into ‘Kim’, with the audience following every power-popped chord, such concerns faded away. Maybe we’ve always been too academic about Adams; too concerned about defining something that does not need to be defined.
As he played the audience up and out with ‘When The Stars Go Blue’, it seemed redundant to confuse personality with art, or try to make cerebral sense out of music aimed squarely for the gut. Who is Ryan Adams? He is his songs. That’s all.