Ryan Adams & The Unknown Band, Middle Kids @ Hordern Pavilion, Sydney (27.05.17)
According to messages on his Instagram account, this was the last AU/NZ tour for Ryan Adams. For 15 years he’s sacrificed his mind and body and battle with Ménière’s disease to make the long flights down to this part of the world and entertain fans. It hasn’t always gone well. There have been incredible shows like that first epic show at Metro Theatre in 2002 that stretched long into the night and the difficult ones like the infamous ‘turn up the lights’ show at the Enmore Theatre. Tonight was another that fell short of expectations but was no means a bad gig.
Middle Kids entertained the arriving punters with their generic indie rock with pop overtones. The band played well and showed an endearing interplay and relaxed demeanour but there was little to grab a hold of and take home to look up later, apart from the strong single Edge Of Town with its comforting chug and late-song acceleration.
Ryan Adams was only last here in December but since then he’s already jettisoned his drummer and guitarist and replaced them with the former’s drum tech and his best mate Todd Wisenbaker. Adams pulled out the biggest chords of his set with opener Do You Still Love Me?, backing it up a few songs later with the previous album’s similarly 80’s rock track Gimme Something Good.
A handful of songs in, with none of Adams’ usual wacky banter and humorous sidetracking, and the observance that he was wearing sunglasses, it began to become clear he wasn’t his usual self. A expletive-laden response to a punter yelling out during the quiet Prisoner gave more credence to the realisation that Adams was off form. Musically though, it proved irrelevant. He’s a consummate performer, never giving less than his all in the delivery of his songs, ranging from his take on Wonderwall to a brace of songs from the seminal Heartbreaker LP, still as tender and beautiful as ever, and nearly half of the new album.
The last half hour was the point that sorted out the new fans from the old as he dug deep and the band spread their cosmic wings on Magnolia Mountain, Dirty Rain, Mockingbird and Cold Roses, hitting Grateful Dead territory and jamming with intensity and groove, Adams taking them on a psychedelic sonic road trip before steadying the ship with a final head-clearing Shakedown on 9th Street.
The venue, as it often is, was a disservice to fans, a soulless shell of a building with the sound taking on a brittle edge when it should be warm and embracing in the case of Adams’ music. It remains to be seen if he does ever return but for those of us who have been there for all those shows over the last 15 years it’s been one hell of a fascinating ride.