Ryan Adams. Apollo, Manchester.

An artist I adore, who I haven’t seen live in over 10 years. Venue I’ve never heard of, let alone been to, in the wonderful City of Manchester.

I adore Ryan Adams and have done so for a number of years. One of the best gigs I’ve ever been to was him in Liverpool in February 2006, where he played solo for over 2 hours and held a crowd of Scousers silent! He also caned 2 bottles of red wine in that show and did a Slayer cover on the piano. I met him afterwards and one of the greatest moments of my life was him taking my hands, looking me straight in the eye and declaring “you are a beautiful, beautiful girl” before walking away. It was memorable and brilliant and I have been scared to see him live again ever since. I did see him once more, later that same year, when I was 8 months pregnant and although he was superb my mind was understandably elsewhere.

When this tour was announced, the 40 gigs celebration had already started, my then boyfriend bought me a ticket by way of birthday present. When we split up he told me to keep the gift. Thank you to him for being generous and decent.

For whatever reason, Ryan doesn’t play shows down South, other than London and I think I’ve made my dislike of London shows clear elsewhere in this blog 🙂 I knew I could fund cheap travel (hello Megabus) and hotel (hello Easy Hotel) and just knew that this would be a special gig.

The journey up may have been cheap (only £1) but it took a very, very long time. An awful accident had closed much of the M5 and the resulting tailbacks meant it took us 6 hours just to reach Birmingham. I disembarked there and picked up a train. I had to be there in time for Ryan. Just had to. Total journey time was 8.5 hours. My thoughts were very much with the victims family and everyone involved with the accident and its clean up, but I wanted to get to the venue in time to feel comfortable as I had never been there before. I was also nervous that Ryan wouldn’t be good enough to have made such a journey worthwhile. Prove me wrong, Ryan, please. Without spoiling the rest of the words to come, he did.

In the event I wasn’t early enough to get a front row spot, I could have been second row, but it was very crowded and I didn’t feel at all comfortable so I went to stand in front of the sound desk. At least I’ll have amazing sound, if not view, was my thinking. I got chatting (so much easier up North, people really are a lot friendlier) and relaxed.

Support was from Karen Elson, who stylistically suited Ryan at least. It was hard to make a judgement of her music though as the venue filled up and people were moving about and chatting in front of me. The sound was also not the greatest (which given where I was standing was a surprise). I’ll download her stuff on the strength of what I heard though.

Just before Ryan was due on I moved further back as despite the sloped floor, the sold out venue was too crowded and I couldn’t see a thing. Also Ben n Barry had appeared and so I found a spot with them to watch Ryan. It was a bit odd seeing them at a gig that wasn’t their own, but not as odd as seeing them anywhere other than a gig would have been I guess! This 40 gigs will be unique in that I got to share it with half of Starsailor.

Ryan came on to rapturous applause and began what would be a 26 song set, playing for in excess of 2 hours. The man is brilliant live. A genius. I have loved, no adored, his music for so long. The Cold Roses album saw me through separation, Gold my divorce. He gets labelled as alt country, but the truth is there are so many different Ryan’s. Sometimes he is country, sometimes he is rock, sometimes he is both, sometimes he is acoustic, sometimes with a full band. He is a polymath, a prolific songwriter and a poet. He played songs from throughout his 20 year solo career (yep, Heartbreaker is 20 years old. Blows my mind to think that).

He played some of my favourites, Gimmee Something Good and Two among them. Then he did a trio of songs that were almost too much. I felt slightly broken and if he had kept that level of emotion up any longer I would have broken down. Prisoner into Everybody Knows into Dirty Rain. I was in bits, weeping, tears flowing down that I had no control over. It was as if he’d reached into my heart and ripped it a little. Heartbreaking. And that is why I love him. He manages to make beauty from sadness. His music can be very sad, depressing even, and he often deals in heartbreak and loss. Themes of loneliness and lost love permeate most of his stuff. Yet, he shares that pain and in doing so it is lessened. We heal by knowing we are, after all, not alone. Not when we have his music. And at a gig, each other. There is comfort in the shared experience.

By way of contrast, he played Halloweenhead, which was a joy as all the blokes around me bellowed out the chorus loudly. Then Stars Go Blue. Oh, deep sighs and shivers and chills. This has always, always, been one of my favourites of his. It was the one I came away from that spectacular Liverpool gig singing (even though he hadn’t played it that night). It is the only one of his records every selected for Desert Island Discs (by Stephen King) and to have heard it live was spine tingling. The lighting became blue stars and beamed out across us all. It was wonderful. If I could bottle that moment, to relive forever, I would.

He played loads more. Ones that stand out were Cold Roses and Magnolia Mountain, both of which he played the hell out of his guitar for. He can play a mean blues/rock/country riff when he wants to you know. He was backed by a full band “the unknown band” all of whom were brilliant. Tight sounding and on it the whole show. Oh he played Let It Ride. And Fix It. It was all brilliant, all of it.

The final three songs. Well. What can I say? New York, New York, Come Pick Me Up and Shakedown on 9th Street. Wow. What a trio of songs to end on. Just superb. I was left smiling, slightly dazed and knowing I’d experienced a brilliant gig. There aren’t many artists who can break your heart, heal you, make you dance, make you smile and leave you with joy and gladness in your heart at the end of the show. Ryan is one of those. There also aren’t many who you can say sitting on a Megabus for over 6 hours is worth it. Well, he is. I would go back tonight if I could. I’d go back every night if I could.

Ryan Adams is a special artist. Live he is even more so. This was a special gig. I shall treasure the memories of it for a long time.

Thank you Ryan for all the music, all of it. Thank you Manchester for being so welcoming and friendly again. I think I’ve left a part of my heart with you this time. I will return. I will hopefully see Ryan again one day, he is such a special talent. I adored this gig. It was one of the best I’ve been to, not just this year, but ever.

32 down, 8 to go.

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