Ryan Adams @ Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Glasgow loves Ryan Adams. The wild applause which greeted his arrival on stage was as loud as some you might hear at the end of a great set. Before long, Ryan realised that in this city he’ll be clapped just for walking across the stage.

And unlike the “existential hopelessness” in the relationships he sings about, Ryan seems to love Glasgow too. Whether it’s at the Barrowlands, the Academy or the more genteel environment of the Concert Hall, Ryan always has a great time playing in Glasgow.

“This is a song about rain.  I know you don’t get a lot of that here…so just try to imagine,” he joked as he led into the fourth song of the evening, Dirty Rain – which is growing in stature with every performance.  An early precedent to joke with the audience – missing from his polished performance the previous night – had been set, though it didn’t detract from the quality of the show.

For a self-professed sad bastard, Ryan Adams does humour like a seasoned stand-up.  He couldn’t help but ponder, following the recent holographic performance of Tupac, how crazy it would be for an artist to walk out on stage to see the audience is just one giant hologram.  “We should play that joke on KISS,” he mused.  “They deserve it, they’re always playing jokes on us, coming out dressed like rock clowns from Mars.”

The “greatest hits” setlist established on this European tour was tweaked slightly for a receptive Glasgow audience.  Out went Let It Ride, replaced by the superior Why Do They Leave?  Ryan’s voice aches with despondancy here in harmony with a ghostly harmonica.

There was also room for an airing of the hushed ode to his cat in “Mr. Cat” before the gig resumed an air of seriousness with New York, New York.

These shows, with their “greatist hits” feel, do a fine job in encapsulating the career of Ryan Adams.  Almost all of his best work is showcased here (you could, if you were being picky, make a case for some of the few albums not represented; Strawberry Wine from 29, for example, but as he remarked, you’d need two concerts for him to play everything) and on a night like this, when his humour subtly compliments the extraordinary voice and the increasingly ambitious guitar, the very best qualities of Ryan Adams are presented to the audience.

It’s why Glasgow adourns him with such love, and why Ryan almost immediately took to Twitter to declare it his “FAV show of the tour!!!!”

Ryan Adams @ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

Consistency, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form,”

Pretty soon they’re going to have to accompany that entry with a picture of Ryan Adams, for consistency is the noun which best describes the current run of live performances by the singer-songwriter.

No longer do you attend a Ryan Adams gig with the old “which Ryan is going to turn up tonight?” joke in mind.  Indeed, on this Spring tour at least, you don’t even enter the theatre venues – which seem to be growing in size with each visit he makes to these shores – with the guessing game of which songs will make it onto the setlist.

You could gather three Ryan Adams fans together in a room – actually, make it a bar – and ask them to come up with a ‘greatest hits’ setlist and they would return to you with seven different variations.  But this tour undeniably has the feel of a ‘greatest hits’ tour, and Ryan has been sticking rigidly, consistantly, to that set from city to city.

From the harmonica-laden opening duo of Oh My Sweet Carolina and Ashes & Fire into If I Am A Stranger, followed by the brilliant combination of Dirty Rain and My Winding Wheel.  Over to the piano for Rescue Blues and then to the other side of the stage for “another bucket of sunshine” with Please Do Not Let Me Go.  Ryan likes to “play depressing songs on all sides of the stage,” you see.

Last night in Rain City Ryan had his serious hat on.  There was minimal chatter, no references to dragons and no improvised songs about cats.  This was all about letting the quality of the songs, the strength of his voice and the sublime intricacy of his guitar playing do all the talking.

Three European tours since June 2011 have given him the platform to hone his solo acoustic shows.  The rough edges have been sanded down and the joking around, as quirky and welcome as it often was, is now minimal.  His technique on the guitar has grown into a confidence previously unseen; every pluck of the strings reverborates around the theatre like a delicate heartbeat.  The playing on Please Do Not Let Me Go was especially beautiful.

The reinvention of New York, New York as a piano ballad continues to be the high water mark of Ryan’s talent, featuring in a run towards the end of the set that showcases some of his best work:  the stunning English Girls Approximately; sole Whiskeytown number 16 Days and the now standard set closer Come Pick Me Up.

Oscar Wilde once said that “consistency is the last refuge for the unimaginative.”  He was wrong.  For Ryan Adams, the consistency of his live performances, this sustained period of excellence on the stage, is one of the most imaginative and (for us) enjoyable twists in his ever-evolving career.

Ryan Adams @ The Sage, Gateshead

“I’m here to make you sad,” Ryan purred as he armed himself with his harmonica and Buck Owens guitar in response to a meow from a member of the audience, presumably a reference to Ryan’s recent fascination with re-Tweeting pictures of cats.

The thing is that despite the content of his songs, a Ryan Adams performance rarely leaves you feeling sad, at least not now that he has regained his focus and found his Heartbreaker voice again.

This much is evident from the outset as he opens with two songs from the albums which currently bookend his solo career; the always breathtaking Oh My Sweet Carolina and Ashes & Fire, the latter sang with a passion and a vitriol which echoed around the seashell-shaped Sage.  The title track from his current record has quickly become one of my favourite live songs, the harmonica adding a new layer to it.

The Dirty Rain into My Winding Wheel sequence proved again to be a highlight, as it was on the Autumn tour, as Ryan started the show with a professionalism deeply in contrast to his stumbling performance in the same building six years ago, only stepping out of his stride to briefly admonish the wannabe photographers in the hall.

Early flashes of Ansel Adams inspiration aside, the Gateshead audience was largely hushed and reverent as the musical Adams produced a setlist furnished largely with offerings from his latest release, with smatterings of Heartbreaker, Gold and Love is Hell weaved throughout the evening.  “I’ve always wanted to play the Death Star,” he quipped as he took to the piano for Rescue Blues.

Lucky enough to have found myself in the front row, I was able to fully appreciate the truly delicate guitar playing that Ryan has been spoiling us with on these tours over the last year.  There were some really subtle additions to some songs, noticably Firecracker, and Ryan seems to be in a place where he’s happy and comfortable on stage playing.

Of course, as slick and professional as the newly-focussed Ryan is, there is always the chance that the tempestuous character of old will come to the fore, and one sure-fire way of ensuring that is to call out from the audience, which is exactly what one fella dared do as Ryan attempted to tell us of his activities the previous evening.

“Just play the song,” some guy bellowed impatiently from the balcony, which was slightly uncalled for considering that this was one of Ryan’s less chattier sets.

“Sorry, did I interrupt you?”  Ryan remarked before going on to tell us about his search for food in Newcastle on a Saturday night, observing that some of the sights he witnessed were like a scene from the movie Animal House.  “Seriously, why do the girls even bother wearing heels?  They know they’re not walking home in them.”  Funny.

This somehow linked into the only Whiskeytown (or Space Maggot, as he referred to his former band) tune of the night, 16 Days, which Ryan paused mid-intro to flash a middle finger towards the balcony.

“Ryan, please play AMY!” called out a young lady moments later as he positioned himself at the piano for the ever gorgeous New York, New York.

“Talk to that guy there,” Ryan responded cooly, before thinking about it some more.  “The asshole of Gateshead.  You fucking prick.  That’s why you have no girlfriend and are here at this sad music show.”  Harsh.  We can’t all be married to Mandy Moore.

As he started with a song from Heartbreaker so he ended, with Come Pick Me Up providing a neat symmetry to the set, before he returned to “sweep up” with a cover of the Alice in Chains track Nutshell.

Six years ago when Ryan Adams last played The Sage he was a drunken (and/or high) shambles, spending as much time impersonating Billy Ocean as highlighting his own talents.  He would later reveal to a small group of us who had waited ourside to meet him theat he isn’t entirely comfortable playing solo shows.

Last night was an entirely different experience.  We were treated to a(n almost) serious Ryan, whose music spoke louder than anything else.

It may have been “a full concert of sad bastard songs” but no-one could have left The Sage unhappy with what they heard.

Well, expect maybe for that guy on the balcony….