Wow, what a gig! Ryan Adams played for about two and half hours last night in the Concertgebouw, an unusual venue for a rock gig, but perfect for this acoustic set. Just him, his guitar (sometimes piano) and a bunch of songs that drew heavily on the Heartbreaker album; and not too much from his more commercial albums. He was in really good humour, telling lots of jokes between the songs. It sometimes seemed like he was going to play all night long – even his encore, which came after a rapturous standing ovation from a sell-out crowd, lasted nearly twenty minutes. For a true Ryan Adams fan this was musical heaven. He had a big folder containing seemingly his entire back catalogue from which he picked, almost at random, the next song to play each time. One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen.
Eh, actually, no. The above might be have been my review if I were a huge Ryan Adams fan and familiar with more than just the very successful (and brilliant) Gold album and the later Easy Tiger. Unfortunately, for this music fan at least, it was a hugely disappointing evening. After the first hour I was still more or less enjoying it. Granted I knew almost none of the songs, but he was singing and playing well and, in contrast to the last time I saw him (Munich, 2007, with a band), he was in good spirits and seemed to be enjoying himself. But by the end of the second hour (!) I was ready to leave. There was a flatness and sameness to the songs that meant after song number 15 (or whatever) it all began to blend into one. The four songs from Gold that he played were pretty good, but there were only two songs all night that even approached what you could call being up-tempo. Yawn.
The fans were in heaven, but I thought it was all very self-indulgent and quite arrogant. Compared to other solo acoustic artists I’ve seen recently (Tallest Man on Earth, Josh Ritter, Neil Hannon) he simply didn’t make any effort to entertain the audience. At €50 for a ticket one could expect a bit more effort on his part. The between-song joking was initially entertaining, but it became tiresome as the night dragged on. I realise that I was in a minority with respect to last night’s audience, but I’m sure any reasonable Ryan-lover could understand that it wasn’t such a great show for someone that didn’t know the songs. The encore was particularly tedious: on the pretext of annoying the venue management he chose two of his longest, slowest songs to play and rambled on interminably before each one.
On the bright side, having Laura Marling in support was a nice surprise. The quite, respectful atmosphere (no doubt inspired by the surroundings) was perfect for the low key, gentle set she chose. Admittedly I was more impressed when I saw her with a full band in the Melkweg last year, but with just her guitar she seemed to win over the Adams Family. There were at least a couple of new songs in her set which promised more good stuff to come for her next album.
A general point: what a pleasure to be able to hear the music clearly without someone carrying on mid-song conversation right behind you. I’m not saying the Concertgebouw is suitable for a typical rock, pop or even folk gig, but it did make a nice change.