Ryan Adams @ Albert Hall, Manchester/Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

You might think that after 11 years spent travelling up and down the country seeing this guy play fifteen times Ryan Adams wouldn’t have any more surprises in his guitar case, but two nights in Manchester and Glasgow this week thoroughly disproved any such thoughts.

Touring with a band for the first time in over five years clearly gives him a lot more leverage in the scope of his setlist, and the spreading of the burden with four others on stage had Ryan at his most visibly relaxed in years.  These were two excellent shows powered by a phenomenal energy – both on stage and off – and some big ass amps.  This was Ryan at his loudest and most confident.

As expected, the set list followed the same pattern as three previous shows in London, with its foundation built largely on his strong recent self-titled release.  Gimme Something Good has an almost grungey feel to it and works as a fine opener, Fix It has been reinvented with a brilliant bluesy sound, while Let It Ride has always been a superb live hit.  But it was the surprise introductions of songs long not heard at a Ryan Adams gig which really made these nights special.

When Ryan began tuning his guitar under the gaze of a gigantic organ in what was once a Methodist church in Manchester, telling the audience that he was going to play a song he hadn’t played in years, little would anyone have guessed he and his band were going to dust off Rock N Roll’s Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?, a song not played since 2006.  It was a revelation, perfectly suited to the occasion and a performance which ranked as a true highlight from the two nights.

But even that was nothing when compared to what would come the following night.  I’ve long suspected that Ryan Adams saves his best performances for Glasgow – the city has almost always provided the best night on his UK tours.  His statement of love for the city on Thursday night is one he doesn’t make often – if at all.  It felt genuine, and he followed it with a song he claimed the band had been working on all day specially for the occasion – a glorious harmonica-driven version of New York, New York.  It was breathtaking; a truly spine-tingling moment.  This is the this different version of this song I’ve heard Ryan play, and it may have been the best.  To then come up with La Cienega Just Smiled later in the set, one of the most bitter and beautiful songs in his extensive back catalogue and another rarely played, was almost overwhelming.  It was a very fine point in as close to a flawless performance as you could imagine.  His appreciation of Glasgow even extended to affording us the opportunity to select the “encore” song (after a long fake encore which concluded with the audience singing the same not) – it was a decision almost as contentious as the referendum, with Come Pick Me Up gaining a louder applause than Political Scientist.  I voted for both.

These two nights offered everything you’ve come to expect from a Ryan Adams gig over the last 11 years – and just a little bit more:  The hilarious improvised song in Glasgow about “Mr Stage Secrity Right” – who Ryan had earlier berated for shining a torch in his direction, an act which he later felt so bad about that he composed an off-the-cuff song as way of apology; the frequent Star Wars references; the tight, almost perfectly selected set lists; the voice which seems to get better with age; complaints about sound quality in Manchester (he still seemed pissed about this the next night).  It was all here – with a couple of phenomenal surprises on top.

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