Last night Ryan Adams returned to the London stage (literally taking over the venue from the West End production of the Wizard of Oz) for the fourth of his latest 14-date Spring 2012 European tour. Following up his intimate Union Chapel shows back in October to mark the release of 'Ashes and Fire', Adams returned to London with his piano and the now customary green, red and yellow acoustic guitar for another go at his own thing.
Once again deciding to leave any form of band back in his native New York, Adams thumbed through his songbook and played a two hour set of songs spanning his prolific solo career, editing out the regrettable bits along the way.
Quietly opening his set with 'Oh My Sweet Carolina', Adams immediately hushed the 2,200-seat theatre, his ever-devoted fans melting into their seats with every emotional crack and whisper that has become the trademark of his voice. Like the Union Chapel show you could hear a pin drop as the beauty and simplicity of his guitar playing rang out and Adams had the crowd in his hands within seconds.
Quickly launching into the title-track from his latest LP 'Ashes and Fire' Adams showcased the kind of song-writing for which he is adored and followed by 'If I Am a Stranger' from Cold Roses along with another newcomer 'Dirty Rain' he proved his material has a depth which can sometimes be lost in the sheer number of records he produces. The set continued to mix old and new with returns to 2000's 'Heartbreaker' with standout 'Winding Wheel', and 2001's 'Gold' with 'Firecracker' and a stunning piano-led rendition of 'Rescue Blues'.
Adams' performances of these songs are faultless and he seems to have become aware of, on his day, just how good he is. This new self-awareness comes out in his interactions with the crowd as he introduces 'Please Do Not Let Me Go' as "another basket of fucking sunshine". His short yet amusing interactions with the engrossed audience meant that the show was a more celebratory, more confident and uplifting performance than his quiet and emotional Union Chapel gigs. Adams seems to be completely at home without the comforts of a full band behind him to the point where he passed ten minutes of the evening improvising a spoken-word song to his cats back in New York. It was better than it sounds.
Returning to his guitar and a new standing position Adams finished his set with a trio of songs which provide a perfect cross-section of his wealth of material through his varied career. 'When Will You Come Back Home' had some members of the audience in tears with its homage to a self-inflicted breakup, quietly and skillfully sung to really hammer home the raw lyrics. 'Lucky Now' is quickly becoming a live favourite and shows that Adams self-awareness is in full flow and its nod towards becoming older and wiser really connects with the majority of his audience. Cult anthem 'Come Pick Me Up' closes the set along with an apology "to any super fucking confused Wizard of Oz fans" and a spoiler that Dorothy dies at the end "alone".
Only giving Adams the most basic tools of acoustic instruments and his stunning voice, stripping away the production and the fat of the records and leaving the band at home seem to channel an emotion and honesty into the songs which is sometimes lacking on record. His set feels like a greatest-hits with few weak links and, as an artist and performer, he seems to have finally found his stride and that can only mean that the future is bright for Ryan Adams and all of his fans. As he closes the night with a cover of Bob Mould's 'Black Sheets of Rain' (which, Adams tells us all he is playing so that "at least I can leave here happy") the Palladium stands and applauds their heartbreak-hero as he leaves them with the anticipation of the greatness he now seems to know how to achieve.