AS the months go by it becomes even clearer that Ashes & Fire, the album Ryan Adams released last year, is not just one of the best of 2011 but a classic album, full stop. It’s one that will be played and cherished for decades to come.
This performance at the Concert Hall will acquire mythical status: one of those “Were you there?” concerts like Dylan at Brisbane’s Festival Hall in ’66 and Leonard Cohen at the Entertainment Centre in 2009. This was songwriting and performance from the very top of the highest shelf.
Along with just his vintage guitars, harmonica and piano, he held a capacity audience spellbound. This was one of the best songwriters to emerge in the past 20 years, someone who writes with the enduring power of a Dylan or a Cohen, pouring his heart out in one timeless song after another.
Along the way he ranged from sublime versions of Ashes & Fire material such as Dirty Rain and Chains of Love, and back to songs from his early band Whiskeytown like 16 Days.
Sometimes it can be a trial to go to a show and have a disrespectful crowd natter away during the perfomance. There was no danger of that here, with the audience willing him on to deliver the kind of show that could match the power of his songcraft. Apart from Adams himself you could hear a pin drop as the audience drank up every word and note.
Over the years Adams has sometimes been a difficult character onstage, upset by calls from the audience, lights or other distractions. This time getting the tuning on his guitars just right proved difficult, although he soldiered through that and was in chatty good humour, at one point (apparently) improvising a possible heavy metal number, The Lair of the Minotaur, at another relaying an imagined meeting of returning from the gym to run into his guitar called Buck.
The jokes were good but it was the quality of the songs and that voice which brought everyone there. He opened with one of his best-loved songs, Oh My Sweet Carolina, played so quietly and intimately that the you felt drawn ever closer to him.
Adams started with the bar set high and kept it there, from an extraodinary version of Do I Wait from Ashes & Fire through old friends like Firecracker and My Winding Wheel, or interpreting New York, New York at the piano. And he made Come Pick Me Up sound as fresh as if he’d just written it at the soundcheck.
Some singers have great range, great technique, an inbuilt soulfullness. Adams has that plus what only the truly great ones have, a voice that just cuts through and connects with the listener in the head, the heart and the guts. The lucky ones at this show will be telling people about how they witnessed it for years to come.
March 02, 2012