Ryan Adams @ Edinburgh Festival Theatre

You know how I posted the other day about how I imagined that the encore of Friday’s gig in York couldn’t be bettered by any other artist?  Okay.  Well how about you “cut the charade of the encore” altogether (in an effort to beat the strict venue curfew) and instead play a two hour set which stormed towards its climax with five, that’s FIVE, Whiskeytown songs?  That would probably do it.

Finding my way to the venue last night made me think of how much Edinburgh is like this dark and brooding yet ridiculously beautiful dream.  It’s a gothic old movie of a city; elements of a film noir and The Lord of the Rings mixed together to create this place which is so breathtaking that it’s almost impossible to believe that it even exists.

I’m not sure how I found the Festival Theatre, but I did, and I knew from the experience of just walking there that the night was going to be a special one.

I noted on Friday that Ryan has found a level of consistency with his live performances that has perhaps been missing previously in his career, and that consistency followed him to Edinburgh.  Once again the full-range of his incredible back catalogue was utilised here, starting and finishing with Heartbreaker classics Oh My Sweet Carolina and Come Pick Me Up.

Throughout the night Ryan struck up a rapport with the audience themed around a lion named Haggis (this came into being after he ‘misheard’ a cry of “go on yourself, big man!” from the stalls as “I’ve got a big lion”) the idea that Edinburgh Castle could be the world’s biggest waffle house (“I wonder how many hash browns it would take to fill that place”) and riding the lion to the giant waffle house through motorways of chocolate syrup.

This mutual respect was interrupted only briefly by the complaints of a heckler from Manchester who wanted to know why Ryan’s current tour wasn’t visiting his city.  He questioned if it was because he was “turning into a fucking lightweight.”  Ryan bided his time before later introducing Houses on the Hill with the line:  “This is for the Manchester guy.  You’re a dick.  But I still like you.”  One wonders how the Ryan Adams of ten years ago would have dealt with such a confrontation.

Set highlights included Crossed Out Name, which comes as a surprise even as I type these words because I absolutely hate the Cardinology record, but he played it with such a purpose last night (perhaps due to the tight curfew?) that it sort of blew me away.  Why Do They Leave? is always a welcome addition to any setlist, Ashes & Fire is quickly becoming one of my favourite Ryan Adams songs and, even after hearing it four times now, it never ceases to impress me the way Ryan has completely re-worked New York, New York into a beautiful piano ballad.

But nothing could come close to the feeling of pure disbelief and delight as the Whiskeytown numbers began to rack up towards the end of the set.  To hear three of them together on Friday night was a treat, but to add the hauntingly beautiful Houses on the Hill and the rarely-played Dancing With The Women At The Bar to 16 Days, Avenues and Jacksonville Skyline felt like a once in a lifetime sort of deal.  It was simply breathtaking – I was desperate last night to be able to tell someone who would understand just how special a thing that was.

My immediate reaction following the gig last night was that it was probably the best I have ever heard Ryan Adams live, and I’m going to stick to that today.  The venue was a vast improvement on the awkward York Grand Opera House and the audience had a great respect and reverence for Adams which was clearly appreciated by him.

A beautiful night in a beautiful city.

Ryan Adams @ York Grand Opera House

It used to be that Ryan Adams was called a “prolific songwriter”, as if that was some kind of flaw. But as prolific as his releases were his live performances were a bit like shooting ducks at the fairground. It became a running joke amongst gig-going Ryan Adams nerds: “which Ryan will turn up tonight?” I’ve seen him play some great shows, I saw him fall off the stage in Liverpool and drunkenly slur his way through a set in Gateshead. His ‘jams’ with the Cardinals were at times mind-numbing.

Now it would appear that Ryan is back on top form following his recent hiatus. He is in love with his music again and this year I’ve seen three wonderful performances.

Tonight’s highlight at the York Grand Opera House looked like it was going to be an early stretch of songs from Dirty Rain to My Winding Wheel to Sweet Lil Gal 23rd/1st and finally Firecracker.

The remainder of the setlist borrowed from just about all of Ryan’s sprawling back catalogue and was, naturally, loaded with tracks from his new record Ashes & Fire, all of which sound like they can be set staples for years to come.

Then the encore came. After a couple of rarely-played songs from Cold Roses and Jacksonville City nights came what was almost a mini-Whiskeytown set: Avenues, 16 Days and the incredible Jacksonville Skyline, topped off with Adams favourite Come Pick Me Up. I find it difficult to imagine a better encore from any other artist. Seriously.

A fine set in a creaky venue. The third in a row. It looks like Ryan Adams has found some consistency.

Wilco @ Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from a Wilco gig, having never seen them live before and possessing only three of their albums in my collection, but The Whole Love is arguably the best record released this year and so I had some anticipation when I entered the attractive Royal Concert Hall building (although at £4 a Jack Daniels the architecture was about the only attractive feature of the venue!)

When a band opens a show with an eleven minute acoustic performance of the closing track from their latest album you know you are in for a good night.  One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend) was a surprising opener, and one played with beautiful intricacy.  In fact, so intricate are this band that the first three songs of their set consumed around twenty minutes, including the breathtaking Art Of Almost.

The gig ticked away without a hint of a lull (well, except for perhaps the interruption of the whispering Rising Red Lung by the outbreak of a fight somewhere on the balcony!) and, during the encore, I finally got the two songs that I decided on the bus down that I really wanted to hear – Heavy Metal Drummer and I’m The Man Who Loves You.

For a band whose line-up has changed many times over the years and who constantly strive to re-invent their sound this was an extraordinary gig and a thoroughly enjoyably musical experience.

It is clear that Wilco are a band who are at the very top of their game.  Perhaps amongst the best currently performing in the world?  Certainly on the evidence of last night they are.  An easy gig of the year contender.