Ryan Adams, Manchester Academy

Manchester Academy

By the third or fourth album, most artists' gigs are predictable affairs. When they're not churning out the hits, they're shifting uncomfortably as the audience rush to the loos during the new material.

Ryan Adams doesn't have this problem because he ignores his fabled Heartbreaker and Gold albums in favour of an hour of this month's Rock N Roll album (notably avoiding Burning Photographs, which critics have pinpointed as the killer track). If this weren't enough, he unveils cuts from a dark-sounding EP, Love Is Hell, which isn't even released. Adams gets away with it because, well, he's Ryan Adams. "If you don't know me by now, you will never ever fuckin' know me," he drawls, to the Stylistics' tune.

It's always a lottery which Adams will turn up - the sullen, silent troubadour prone to storming offstage, or the wild-eyed rocker who cranks the amps up to the max. This time he's the mischievous charmer. A thousand Mancunians are visibly stunned as the moody singer yells "How ya doin'?" after 30 minutes of silence. Thereafter, there's no stopping him.

There are surreal quips - "Did somebody just ask if I'm on catnip?" and tall tales, including the one about his Uncle Leeroy, who catapulted Betsy the cow at a neighbour's house because they'd installed satellite television. "Satellite TV was a bold fuckin' statement in '53," he grins.

Adams is an appalling liar but a good chameleon. His thin tie and jacket make him look like a Dixons store manager who has been allowed to rock. He can seem like a musical Harry Enfield - able to impersonate Springsteen and Costello at will. On the other hand, no one else is welding classic rock to 80s alternative so successfully: Anybody Wanna Take Me Home is probably the best Smiths song they never wrote.

He leaves and it doesn't look like he'll ever come back, until he sends everybody home happy with two storming cuts from Heartbreaker - dressed, naturally, in a Superman hood and cape.

· At the Forum, London NW1, tonight. Box office: 020-7403 3331.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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