As frontman of quasi-legendary "alt-country" band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams found excitable listeners likening him to Gram Parsons or even Bob Dylan. Comparisons like these have killed many artists stone dead, but Adams's solo album, Heartbreaker, released last autumn, was strong and varied enough to enhance his burgeoning mystique still further.
Adams is treating this solo tour like a performing laboratory and songwriter's workshop, trying out the new songs that seem to teem through his brain, and lobbing in highlights from his back catalogue as helpful signposts. In between, he sustains a rambling montage of jokes, asides and anecdotes.
As he wandered off on sarcastic monologues about Britney Spears, Radiohead and Smashing Pumpkins, and essayed a prolonged sketch in which his uncontrollable mop of hair became a character in its own right and threatened to steal the show, you could begin to believe that Adams was preparing for a career in stand-up in case the songwriting should run dry.
There's no danger of that yet, though, as he seems to be experiencing that hair-trigger creative condition where any fleeting thought or passing observation instantly prompts another song. Slow songs, quick songs, sad songs, songs on guitar or piano -there were so many that Adams couldn't decide what to play next, taking long pauses to leaf through his notebook while absent-mindedly smoking three cigarettes at once.
Yet when he stops clowning around and starts to sing, the shambolic facade instantly vanishes. A rapt silence descended on the house when he sang Oh My Sweet Carolina, while My Winding Wheel derived its impact from its folksy simplicity. Duets with Corina Round on The Idiot Dance and the Neil Young-ish Come Pick Me Up were spellbinding, even if somebody is bound to accuse him of emulating Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Although not Bryan Adams, fortunately.
• Ryan Adams plays the Y Theatre, Leicester (0116-255 6507), tomorrow and the Hop and Grape, Manchester (0161-832 1111) on Saturday.