Ryan Adams: Brixton Academy, London

DESPITE WHAT Ryan Adams tells us tonight, it wasn’t true that this was the first time he had ever played London “without being chemically challenged”. His 2007 tour was also undertaken compos mentis, or so he said at the time. Perhaps the difference is that, this time around, he’s working so hard at sobriety that he can’t stop talking about it.

And he seems to hate it. How else to interpret remarks such as “This is another song about how well-adjusted I am” and “Here’s another song about being so fuckin’ happy”? Without the crutch that helped to create his beautiful-mess persona, maybe he fears that he’s just another alt.country boy with an ear for sweet but innocuous melancholy – and he wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

There are many times during this show when he and his band, the Cardinals, get their teeth into some instrumental passage they find especially juicy, and play a 10-minute jam that makes you doze off in your seat. There might be a lot of skill behind those gently weeping guitars, but three minutes would have sufficed. Consider, too, that Adams staunchly refuses to be frontman, lurking instead in an unlit corner to the left of the drummer; he should have thought twice about playing a 4,000-capacity venue.

Obviously, his fiercely committed fans would disagree. To those who’ve stuck with him through 15 rollercoaster years, he’s a demigod. They applaud him through a set comprised of bites from new album Cardinology (the emphatically rootsy ‘Cobwebs’ stands out), raspily sung honky-tonk favourites (‘La Cienega’, ‘Come Pick Me Up’) and – a salute to his American tour-mates, Oasis – a perversely bleak ‘Wonderwall’. “Thanks for coming out to hear some jams,” says Adams. Fewer jams and more tunes would have been better by far.

© Caroline SullivanThe Guardian, 25 November 2008

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