Tonight the bottle let him down.
It’s an obvious thing to say – but memory is a very funny thing. I had not just to think but also do some proper research to recall details of what was undoubtedly a night to remember. Whereas I could easily recall a huge amount of detail from 46 years ago regarding the Grateful Dead at the Alexandra Palace – boy did I have to rack my brains, do research and speak to friends just to remember where and when this particular debacle actually took place. Perhaps subconsciously I was just trying to expunge it from memory.
Adams’ star has declined markedly over recent years for other reasons. He is though, a great talent – those three Whiskeytown albums are as fine as anything in my view. However, as with so many, when you read about the man behind the art then those heart-wrung love songs become so much less. I would also say he has had a bit of a problem with quantity control, overly profligate and something of the antithesis of Leonard Cohen’s measured and slow-paced production. (though to be fair he did speed up a little in his final years).
So, I have now been able to establish it was at the Bridgewater Hall and thankfully I have found someone who was also there who posted an account that replicated what I experienced that night. I’m no musician, just a fan, so I am always inclined to reserve judgement on the basis that I am not sure I am clever enough to understand. That’s why I still persevere with Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor – too many people see something there for me to ignore those alternative views – so it would be no surprise then that for a while I sat there thinking – maybe it’s me?
Soon enough though I realised it was him not me and that my friend and his son agreed as did several justified hecklers from the audience who just wanted Adams to get on with it. I don’t know precisely what the problem was but Adams clearly was stoned or drunk – what does it matter which? It reached its nadir with some truly emetic feline strangling vocals at the piano – and at that point, we walked out.
It’s not as though we didn’t know that it could be so much better, having seen Adams previously when he delivered a great set – so he was clearly capable. I have no time for the tortured artist business and short of a death in the family, I expect people to do properly what is after all their JOB – just like the rest of the world. There’s no excuse for turning up for work in an unfit state.
The ensuing scene outside the hall was both amusing and rather sad. Amusing as my normally very placid and measured friend berated a steward – who quite reasonably said that there was nothing they could do as they only represented the venue, not the promoter. More seriously though he was hugely disappointed that he had taken his son to see something of which he had great expectations – but turned out to be rubbish. You can imagine the disappointment and frustration.
But don’t just take my word for it. Stephen Fairbanks was also there and you could read his account here (worth it for a good Bill Gates story) wherein he suggests that, ‘Ryan Adams decides that whispering to guitars is way more fun than playing them’ and that the concert degenerates into, ‘drunken gibberish’. No argument here!
Thanks, Stephen – if only so that I can be sure it was not a bad dream.
There you are then. A complete waste of time and money a disappointed teenager a night to remember for all the wrong reasons (as far as I can recall it is the only gig that I have walked out of) and every reason never to bother with Adams again. I’ve never seen any sight of an apology and certainly no likelihood of a refund. But if you are reading Ryan I’d be happy to pass on my bank details.
Here’s a postscript from Wikipedia –
‘In 2007, Adams revealed that he had endured “an extended period of substance abuse” that ended in 2006. He indicated that he routinely snorted heroin mixed with Cocaine, and abused alcohol and pills. He beat his addiction with the assistance of his girlfriend at the time, Jessica Joffe, using Valium therapy and occasionally attending 12-step meetings’.
A bit late for me!