Ryan Adams @ Rock City, Nottingham, 18th Jan 2004

You just don’t know what you’re going to get with Ryan Adams these days. Once a media darling and the saviour of rock 'n' roll, now vilified in some quarters for his hedonistic lifestyle and erratic stage performances. Late last year Adams put out his 4th LP, the record company appeasing ‘Rock N Roll’. Bar a couple of fine tunes, it was a disappointment. It wasn’t Adams at all, and tonight in Nottingham there are no signs that he’s reverted to the Ryan we used to know and love.

Swaggering on stage sporting an all-new ginger frock and swigging from a bottle of red wine, it is impossible to take the man seriously. Set opener and best track off the last album, ‘So Alive’ is a promising start, its classic rock template the reason why people are finally waking up to his prodigious talent. More songs off the latest album follow, but despite being fun, FM friendly rock tracks, they feel like Adams impersonating other bands. It’s like he’s playing a game of ‘spot the riff’ with the audience – ‘Shallow’ sounds curiously similar to T Rex’s ‘Get It On’. More importantly though, the new material isn’t a patch on the Heartbreaker/Gold era Adams, which is what the majority of the audience are doubtless here to see. The glorious, gallivanting ‘To Be Young’ is slipped in the middle of the set, and acts as a reminder of how great Adams is when he puts his mind to it.

Never one for following the book, Adams lets loose and plays the rest of tonight’s set as the mood takes him. The usually high octane ‘This Is It’ goes acoustic, which is probably ill advised given how well it works on record. The more sombre moments of his collection come out in force – ‘Love Is Hell’ offerings ‘Political Scientist’ and ‘My Blue Manhattan’ are inoffensive, but would be more suited to a late lounge somewhere in Soho, and they put a dampener on any momentum the set may have had. Adams’ friendship with The Strokes has been widely publicised, and we are treated to an alternative version of ‘Last Nite’ as a set closer. It’s fun, but the audience are still left wondering when the old school Adams is going to emerge.

With the on stage set list abandoned long ago, Adams wanders back on and begins what effectively is a whole new set. Apart from an aurally pleasing piano led rendition of ‘The Rescue Blues’, Adams’ overblown ego is there for all to see. Twenty minutes of tomfoolery later (Forgetting lyrics, inviting an audience member on stage to sing), the show comes to an end with Adams scaling an amp. Its been a bemusing few hours all in all. The problem is, Ryan Adams is a ridiculously gifted musician who is clearly still bitter at his record company for binning ‘Love Is Hell’, and he’s using his shows to vent his frustration - The result doesn't necessarily make for the greatest spectacle, not on tonight's evidence at least. What road Adams chooses to go down next is anyone's guess, lets just hope Lost Highway realise that they are in danger of murdering a rare talent.

Jeremy Lloyd