Another oldie from the archives. A superb gig from early last year, first published in The Cambridge Student.
Ryan Adams Cambridge Corn Exchange 17/01/04
I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive before this gig. Which Ryan Adams would be coming? Would it be the witty, but music loving satirist of Rock N Roll, the charismatic, punk rock enthusiast who plays in The Finger? Or would it be the jaded lover we heard dwelling magnificently on heartbreak on Love Is Hell? Ryan is notoriously enigmatic. Last month in London he was at his electrifying best; head over heeling with his guitar, drumming for a bit then jumping in to the audience declaring ‘I’m gonna play all night! You’re gonna get your money’s worth, that’s for sure!’
However, a couple of weeks before that in Dublin he infuriated fans. Performing for just over an hour, NME describing the show said ‘When you’re this good, why try to fight it? It’s like watching David Beckham slowly chiselling his right foot off’. A sold out audience waited, eager to hear which Ryan had come to our fine city.
But first we had to wait. Everyone was excited, when a shadow passed the stage door a cheer went off. People whispered to each other about what we would see and clapping started to hasten the advent of the 29 year old North Carolina born troubadour. The lights eventually went down and New York born Jesse Malin took the stage with his keyboardist. Drawing mainly from last years’ The Fine Art of Self Destruction in a stripped down version, Jesse threw in two new songs and a wonderful b-side called cigarettes and violence. While new to many, he still had enough followers to sing a long to classics like Brooklyn and Queen of the Underworld. New to Cambridge he asked ‘This a college town, right?’ I didn’t go to college, I just liked playing rock and roll and getting f**ked up with my friends’. In his songs Malin casts himself as a typical outsider, a loner who ‘just doesn’t fit in’, a role he plays with powerful conviction, holding nothing back. About nine o’clock and with nine songs behind him he bids us farewell and we await Mr Adams.
Waiting is not something the audience do well. Impatiently shouting for Ryan, when he finally walks alone onto the stage the crowd go absolutely wild. You would expect him to capitalise on this and unleash an up-tempo anthem from his new record. Not a bit of it. He stands under a single white spot light with his acoustic guitar, fidgets a bit and starts finger picking. Everyone goes silent. We strain to try and recognise the first number, but this is a new song covering similar themes of rejection and heartbreak but my does he do it well. It’s always difficult playing unknown songs live and few would attempt it as an opener but we’re all wrapped up in the beautiful chorus of ‘one by one, we all fall down’. The band, the ‘Ryan Adams Killers’ gather round a mic for the last chorus and harmonise. They sit down when it’s clear Ryan’s doing this show alone. In a torn jacket, ripped jeans, thick glasses and messy dyed-orange hair he carries on solo for six more songs. Covering material from his previous band Whiskeytown, his Heartbreaker and Love is Hell records we’re eating out of his hand. So wrapped up in his own world he doesn’t even say a word to us or the band. It’s like he’s playing to no one in particular and letting us look on.
Ryan’s keen to show us all his colours. He finally lets his band join and they explode with his new single So Alive. Playing with his pedals, he squeezes every last drop of distortion out for rock out on the new album tracks. He kicks over microphone stands, staggers into band mates and solos behind his back. Then, without a word, he waves goodbye and leaves. We’re left feeling like we’ve done something wrong. We clap and cheer and shout for more. He obliges. Bottle in hand the quiet Ryan climbs atop a huge speaker stack and, playing to the crowd, sings two beautiful ballads accompanied on piano. Quiet Ryan sticks around for a bit more playing another new song and some crowd favourites. He leaves and after a ridiculously long break loud Ryan returns for more distortion and jumps into the crowd. 24 songs since he arrived, Ryan walks off the Corn Exchange stage for the last time. He doesn’t really need the band, by himself he is untouchable. However, his lack of communication tonight makes me feel like he kept us at arms length. This aside, he was a privilege to observe.