Ryan Adams @ Edinburgh Festival Theatre

You know how I posted the other day about how I imagined that the encore of Friday’s gig in York couldn’t be bettered by any other artist?  Okay.  Well how about you “cut the charade of the encore” altogether (in an effort to beat the strict venue curfew) and instead play a two hour set which stormed towards its climax with five, that’s FIVE, Whiskeytown songs?  That would probably do it.

Finding my way to the venue last night made me think of how much Edinburgh is like this dark and brooding yet ridiculously beautiful dream.  It’s a gothic old movie of a city; elements of a film noir and The Lord of the Rings mixed together to create this place which is so breathtaking that it’s almost impossible to believe that it even exists.

I’m not sure how I found the Festival Theatre, but I did, and I knew from the experience of just walking there that the night was going to be a special one.

I noted on Friday that Ryan has found a level of consistency with his live performances that has perhaps been missing previously in his career, and that consistency followed him to Edinburgh.  Once again the full-range of his incredible back catalogue was utilised here, starting and finishing with Heartbreaker classics Oh My Sweet Carolina and Come Pick Me Up.

Throughout the night Ryan struck up a rapport with the audience themed around a lion named Haggis (this came into being after he ‘misheard’ a cry of “go on yourself, big man!” from the stalls as “I’ve got a big lion”) the idea that Edinburgh Castle could be the world’s biggest waffle house (“I wonder how many hash browns it would take to fill that place”) and riding the lion to the giant waffle house through motorways of chocolate syrup.

This mutual respect was interrupted only briefly by the complaints of a heckler from Manchester who wanted to know why Ryan’s current tour wasn’t visiting his city.  He questioned if it was because he was “turning into a fucking lightweight.”  Ryan bided his time before later introducing Houses on the Hill with the line:  “This is for the Manchester guy.  You’re a dick.  But I still like you.”  One wonders how the Ryan Adams of ten years ago would have dealt with such a confrontation.

Set highlights included Crossed Out Name, which comes as a surprise even as I type these words because I absolutely hate the Cardinology record, but he played it with such a purpose last night (perhaps due to the tight curfew?) that it sort of blew me away.  Why Do They Leave? is always a welcome addition to any setlist, Ashes & Fire is quickly becoming one of my favourite Ryan Adams songs and, even after hearing it four times now, it never ceases to impress me the way Ryan has completely re-worked New York, New York into a beautiful piano ballad.

But nothing could come close to the feeling of pure disbelief and delight as the Whiskeytown numbers began to rack up towards the end of the set.  To hear three of them together on Friday night was a treat, but to add the hauntingly beautiful Houses on the Hill and the rarely-played Dancing With The Women At The Bar to 16 Days, Avenues and Jacksonville Skyline felt like a once in a lifetime sort of deal.  It was simply breathtaking – I was desperate last night to be able to tell someone who would understand just how special a thing that was.

My immediate reaction following the gig last night was that it was probably the best I have ever heard Ryan Adams live, and I’m going to stick to that today.  The venue was a vast improvement on the awkward York Grand Opera House and the audience had a great respect and reverence for Adams which was clearly appreciated by him.

A beautiful night in a beautiful city.

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