“Dear God…” The first words of a new song that kicked off Ryan Adams gig on what can only be called the intimate tour at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall. It led into a song of desolation, someone adrift on the wasteland struggling in his circumstances to be a man. Indeed it was a good opening prayer to a gig that was a confessional heartache. Adams makes incredible art out of incredible pain. Indeed that line in La Cienega Just Smiled “I hold you close in the back of my mind/ Feels so good but damn it makes me hurt” articulates perfectly the juxtaposition of raw emotional ache in the heart and the glorious pleasure of his songs on the ear.
Tonight we got the lot but as is almost his signature tune “to be young is to be sad is to be high.” And we need to remember that Adams is young. It would be easy to regard him as a whole lot older having released three solo albums since his band Whiskeytown broke up; he is only twenty-seven. Discussing the show with a friend on the way out, she waxed lyrical about his genius before her final killer line to the jury “and he is younger than me!” Tonight’s audience was as diverse in age as you might find and certainly ever find for an act so young. The students all sat down near the front while the Radio 2 listeners sat a little further back. There are the young trendy brigade who set Adams in their collection alongside Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Radiohead and then the older clients who see him as Gram Parsons reincarnated. The former have never even heard of Parsons and no nothing about the apostolic line Adams follows.
On the stage though we are made all too aware that our new found torch bearer, of whatever musical faith has led us here tonight, is mostly sad and a lot of times high. It is what it is to be young! There is also evidence throughout of a man trying to reach in and pull himself though the youngness, the sadness and most probably the highness. He speaks of longing to slap his 18 year old self across the face. What will make the next phases of his career most intriguing will be how he grows beyond the sadness and hedonism to add to his songs a more philosophical undergarment to the universe?
“Dear God…” however is the only words you are left with as you try to articulate what you have experienced as you bump into the entire Belfast music scene at the exits. Adams sits in a place apart in critical acclaim. This is the gig that no one who is making even the vaguest attempts at writing songs wants to miss. From the young student strumming his first couplets in his bed sit to those who have headlined the same theatre, they were all here. And as eyes met and words were fumbled for “dear God” as a transcendent verb might have been all that made do.
On display tonight, stripped naked of a loud and noisy band was a songwriter whose ability is not earthed in hard work but who seems to have arrived from heaven with the songs already intact and all he has to do is open is mouth and swing his right hand across a few strings. It is effortless. It is like candy floss melting on the touch of your tongue. It is seamless; every line is natural and never contrived. Every rhyme fits and fits perfectly. The melodies too are all so simple and perfectly placed. It is the difference in Adams and his support, the no doubt talented, Jesse Malin who is already touted as Uncuts act of the year. With Malin you can see where he tried to get the rhyme, where he worked to make it work. No such thing with Adams. We have been in the presence of genius, one that only appears every now and again. And one that when he comes to town you make sure you see.
The stripped backness (using only flurries of Sarah and Ruth on cello, piano, violin and bvs and Chief on very occassional guitar), the melancholy, the purity, clarity and simply precious gentleness might have disappointed the “younger sad and high” punters. Adams attitude which is so vociferous could only be caught in the Alex Higgins high speed shiftiness of his pinballing from one spotlight to the other as he moved from folk guitar to rock guitar to piano or in his constant lighting of cigarettes that the guitar smoked more of than him! It was evident in the coarseness of his language and general “young, sad and high” banter which was also very humorous and endearing. When the chord was played the sound was so precise that he could have had a slot in your school concert and your elitist snobby music teacher would have been happy to have him. The voice and the song structure; special. The chance to rage and be raucous will happen next time. And that’ll be just as vital and essential. “Dear God…” make it soon!