Ryan Adams: Astoria, London

IT’S POSSIBLY THE single most obvious thing you can say about Ryan Adams, and it’s a joke that’s been made countless times already, but you’d think he’d do something about his name.

Ryan Adams, for speed readers, isn’t the check-shirted Canadian with the car crash complexion. He’s the former lead singer of acclaimed alt-country act Calexico. I mean Lambchop. Or was it Wilco? No, it’s definitely Whiskeytown.

Sure, Ryan Adams is the name his mommy gave him, but that’s hardly the point. If she ‘d called him Ichael Jackson on Ritney Spears, it still wouldn’t be an excuse. When he stepped out of the shadows of Whiskeytown, he had a window of opportunity, a new start. Couldn’t he have reinvented himself as Thor Byzantium or Beelzebub Tinseltits or something, like pop stars are meant to? He could at least have placed a discreet middle initial between his two names to reduce the similarity to his near-namesake.

As it is, the missing “B” in his name is the first thing people mention, it’s a stumbling block to contemplating his own music (tonight’s show is ruined by one wag repeatedly shouting for ‘Run To You’), and I’ve already wasted two paragraphs discussing it.

Unfortunately, Adams R. has a fair bit in common with Adams B – he’s an unfailingly down-to-earth, unpretentious, got-my-first-real-six-string type whose everyman tunes would be equally at home in a spit ‘n’ sawdust bar as a stadium. Fortunately, he’s prettier to look at. With the same ruffled nest of black hair as comedian Dylan Moran and the shambolically cutesy looks of an indie film star (it can only be a matter of time before his name’s above the title at the Sundance Festival). Tonight, he’s his own support act.

He plays two sets: one solo and acoustic, one with a band, the Sweetheart Revolution. As he reappears with his electrically amplified musicians, another wag – evidently the owner of Dylan at the Royal Albert Hall 1966 bootleg – shouts “Judas!”.

Adams, aware of his role, shouts back, “I don’t believe you, you ‘re a liar” before launching into ‘New York, New York’ (his song, not Ol ‘Blue Eyes’s). He knows his place.

There’s something disarming about the honesty of man who is so blatantly influenced by one other artist, and not only doesn’t deny it, but proudly wears that influence on his sleeve. It isn’t the music of Bob Dylan that Ryan Adams’s most resembles, it’s that of Gram Parsons. His official press release unashamedly describes Whiskeytown as “arguably the greatest post-Gram band to come down the musical pike”, and tonight he highlights his debt with a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ ‘Sin City’.

Other covers which punctuate his set tonight include the Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar’, the Ramones’ ‘I Don’t Wanna Work’, and Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’. There’s something little airbrushed about Adams’s happy-go-lucky, elbow-out-the-window country rock and you have to question the taste of man who has written a song in tribute to Shania Twain. Adams has none of the redeeming self-loathing of, say, a Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

The ecstatic singalong which greets ‘When The Stars Turn Blue’, however, suggests a sizeable constituency who can live without self-loathing right now. It’s for them that Adams plays on through the pain of broken wrist. Everything he does, he does it for you.

© Simon PriceIndependent on Sunday, 25 November 2001

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