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.

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