Sheryl Crow @ Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

This current UK tour may be to promote her current country album, Feels Like Home, but last night’s set at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall found that Sheryl Crow is still a rocker at heart.

With a backing band which at times played with as many as four guitarists, Crow’s lengthy back catalogue was given a dynamic airing over two hours which were packed with hits.  It’s sometimes easy to forget just how much Sheryl Crow has achieved over her 22-year career; this was an enjoyable reminder.

The energy and enthusiasm which would command this performance wasn’t immediately evident in the grungy opener Maybe Angels, but the tone was soon lightened in emphatic style with A Change Would Do You Good and All I Wanna Do bringing the Concert Hall to life, the latter inciting the evening’s first singalong.

New album Feels Like Home was represented in some of the nights rootsier moments.  Callin’ Me When I’m Lonely wept with heartache and pedal steel while Shotgun carried a large country riff following a touching introduction which brought us back to Sheryl’s childhood, with her parents seemingly in the audience.

But it was with the rockier elements of the show which really brought out the best in Crow – and particularly her band, with If It Makes You Happy and Everyday Is a Winding Road providing a perfect climax to the set, before a fitting encore cover of Led Zepplin’s Rock and Roll allowed her four guitar players to really let loose.

Ryan Adams @ Albert Hall, Manchester/Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

You might think that after 11 years spent travelling up and down the country seeing this guy play fifteen times Ryan Adams wouldn’t have any more surprises in his guitar case, but two nights in Manchester and Glasgow this week thoroughly disproved any such thoughts.

Touring with a band for the first time in over five years clearly gives him a lot more leverage in the scope of his setlist, and the spreading of the burden with four others on stage had Ryan at his most visibly relaxed in years.  These were two excellent shows powered by a phenomenal energy – both on stage and off – and some big ass amps.  This was Ryan at his loudest and most confident.

As expected, the set list followed the same pattern as three previous shows in London, with its foundation built largely on his strong recent self-titled release.  Gimme Something Good has an almost grungey feel to it and works as a fine opener, Fix It has been reinvented with a brilliant bluesy sound, while Let It Ride has always been a superb live hit.  But it was the surprise introductions of songs long not heard at a Ryan Adams gig which really made these nights special.

When Ryan began tuning his guitar under the gaze of a gigantic organ in what was once a Methodist church in Manchester, telling the audience that he was going to play a song he hadn’t played in years, little would anyone have guessed he and his band were going to dust off Rock N Roll’s Anybody Wanna Take Me Home?, a song not played since 2006.  It was a revelation, perfectly suited to the occasion and a performance which ranked as a true highlight from the two nights.

But even that was nothing when compared to what would come the following night.  I’ve long suspected that Ryan Adams saves his best performances for Glasgow – the city has almost always provided the best night on his UK tours.  His statement of love for the city on Thursday night is one he doesn’t make often – if at all.  It felt genuine, and he followed it with a song he claimed the band had been working on all day specially for the occasion – a glorious harmonica-driven version of New York, New York.  It was breathtaking; a truly spine-tingling moment.  This is the this different version of this song I’ve heard Ryan play, and it may have been the best.  To then come up with La Cienega Just Smiled later in the set, one of the most bitter and beautiful songs in his extensive back catalogue and another rarely played, was almost overwhelming.  It was a very fine point in as close to a flawless performance as you could imagine.  His appreciation of Glasgow even extended to affording us the opportunity to select the “encore” song (after a long fake encore which concluded with the audience singing the same not) – it was a decision almost as contentious as the referendum, with Come Pick Me Up gaining a louder applause than Political Scientist.  I voted for both.

These two nights offered everything you’ve come to expect from a Ryan Adams gig over the last 11 years – and just a little bit more:  The hilarious improvised song in Glasgow about “Mr Stage Secrity Right” – who Ryan had earlier berated for shining a torch in his direction, an act which he later felt so bad about that he composed an off-the-cuff song as way of apology; the frequent Star Wars references; the tight, almost perfectly selected set lists; the voice which seems to get better with age; complaints about sound quality in Manchester (he still seemed pissed about this the next night).  It was all here – with a couple of phenomenal surprises on top.

Martha Wainwright @ Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow for Celtic Connections 2013

Being born into a musically gifted family, Martha Wainwright has never been short of inspiration or influence.  She clearly carried those influences across the Atlantic for this stripped-back acoustic gig at the Celtic Connections festival in the handsomely attended Royal Concert Hall.

The Canadian made it clear early in the night that she would not be competing with her brother Rufus, who stripped completely naked at his Academy concert last month, despite their frequent attempts to out-do each other.  “I think he’s got me there,” she laughed.

The spirit of her late mother – the legendary Kate McGarrigle – was very much in attendance, particularly with Wainwright’s latest album, Come Home To Mama, being written and recorded in the months following her passing.  The pain of that loss is still fresh in her voice and bleeds out over  Can You Belive It and Proserpina, which was the last song McGarrigle wrote.

Her father, Loudon Wainwright III, is also present, although perhaps not afforded the same adulation in song as Kate, with Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole a stinging criticism of the man.  The audience was rapturous in its appreciation.

This was a beautiful gig.  The Royal Concert Hall crowd can sometimes be a little difficult to please (some might say stuffy), but there was almost universal acceptance on the way out that Martha Wainwright was a success.  Her voice carried magnificently through the sprawling venue, the guitar was played with great poise and delicacy and the set list was excellent, with just the right balance between covers of her mothers work (and one Leonard Cohen song) and a showcase of her own talent.

As though to accentuate the point, Martha abandoned the guitar for the final song of the encore, perching herself on the edge of the stage without the assistance of a microphone as she performed a quite exquisite Piaf number.  It takes a fair talent to sing in French before a Scottish audience, completely unassisted by a guitar or a microphone or any form of equipment, and Martha handled it sublimely.

Of course, it was all to prove to Rufus that she can handle “these traditional, classic things.”  It was the theme of the evening.

Ryan Adams @ Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Glasgow loves Ryan Adams. The wild applause which greeted his arrival on stage was as loud as some you might hear at the end of a great set. Before long, Ryan realised that in this city he’ll be clapped just for walking across the stage.

And unlike the “existential hopelessness” in the relationships he sings about, Ryan seems to love Glasgow too. Whether it’s at the Barrowlands, the Academy or the more genteel environment of the Concert Hall, Ryan always has a great time playing in Glasgow.

“This is a song about rain.  I know you don’t get a lot of that here…so just try to imagine,” he joked as he led into the fourth song of the evening, Dirty Rain – which is growing in stature with every performance.  An early precedent to joke with the audience – missing from his polished performance the previous night – had been set, though it didn’t detract from the quality of the show.

For a self-professed sad bastard, Ryan Adams does humour like a seasoned stand-up.  He couldn’t help but ponder, following the recent holographic performance of Tupac, how crazy it would be for an artist to walk out on stage to see the audience is just one giant hologram.  “We should play that joke on KISS,” he mused.  “They deserve it, they’re always playing jokes on us, coming out dressed like rock clowns from Mars.”

The “greatest hits” setlist established on this European tour was tweaked slightly for a receptive Glasgow audience.  Out went Let It Ride, replaced by the superior Why Do They Leave?  Ryan’s voice aches with despondancy here in harmony with a ghostly harmonica.

There was also room for an airing of the hushed ode to his cat in “Mr. Cat” before the gig resumed an air of seriousness with New York, New York.

These shows, with their “greatist hits” feel, do a fine job in encapsulating the career of Ryan Adams.  Almost all of his best work is showcased here (you could, if you were being picky, make a case for some of the few albums not represented; Strawberry Wine from 29, for example, but as he remarked, you’d need two concerts for him to play everything) and on a night like this, when his humour subtly compliments the extraordinary voice and the increasingly ambitious guitar, the very best qualities of Ryan Adams are presented to the audience.

It’s why Glasgow adourns him with such love, and why Ryan almost immediately took to Twitter to declare it his “FAV show of the tour!!!!”

Ryan Adams @ Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

Consistency, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form,”

Pretty soon they’re going to have to accompany that entry with a picture of Ryan Adams, for consistency is the noun which best describes the current run of live performances by the singer-songwriter.

No longer do you attend a Ryan Adams gig with the old “which Ryan is going to turn up tonight?” joke in mind.  Indeed, on this Spring tour at least, you don’t even enter the theatre venues – which seem to be growing in size with each visit he makes to these shores – with the guessing game of which songs will make it onto the setlist.

You could gather three Ryan Adams fans together in a room – actually, make it a bar – and ask them to come up with a ‘greatest hits’ setlist and they would return to you with seven different variations.  But this tour undeniably has the feel of a ‘greatest hits’ tour, and Ryan has been sticking rigidly, consistantly, to that set from city to city.

From the harmonica-laden opening duo of Oh My Sweet Carolina and Ashes & Fire into If I Am A Stranger, followed by the brilliant combination of Dirty Rain and My Winding Wheel.  Over to the piano for Rescue Blues and then to the other side of the stage for “another bucket of sunshine” with Please Do Not Let Me Go.  Ryan likes to “play depressing songs on all sides of the stage,” you see.

Last night in Rain City Ryan had his serious hat on.  There was minimal chatter, no references to dragons and no improvised songs about cats.  This was all about letting the quality of the songs, the strength of his voice and the sublime intricacy of his guitar playing do all the talking.

Three European tours since June 2011 have given him the platform to hone his solo acoustic shows.  The rough edges have been sanded down and the joking around, as quirky and welcome as it often was, is now minimal.  His technique on the guitar has grown into a confidence previously unseen; every pluck of the strings reverborates around the theatre like a delicate heartbeat.  The playing on Please Do Not Let Me Go was especially beautiful.

The reinvention of New York, New York as a piano ballad continues to be the high water mark of Ryan’s talent, featuring in a run towards the end of the set that showcases some of his best work:  the stunning English Girls Approximately; sole Whiskeytown number 16 Days and the now standard set closer Come Pick Me Up.

Oscar Wilde once said that “consistency is the last refuge for the unimaginative.”  He was wrong.  For Ryan Adams, the consistency of his live performances, this sustained period of excellence on the stage, is one of the most imaginative and (for us) enjoyable twists in his ever-evolving career.

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.