Ryan Adams, Academy, Glasgow

Academy, Glasgow

"Let's get ready to bum everybody out," says Ryan Adams, his shaggy hair haloed with smoke, an overgrown schoolboy cutting class. Alone on the stage, like all the greatest entertainers, he knows that to leaven the sadness of his songs is actually to deepen their bite. So he embarks on lengthy between-song peregrinations, rambling, often semi-audibly, about anything and everything with charmingly loose and underplayed comic timing. He riffs about his mother keeping tabs on him; about how the music in the tour van swerved unnervingly from Swedish black metal to Mariah Carey; he sends himself up, warbling "I wreck all my relationships" over hammy piano chords; he talks a lot about how he shouldn't talk at shows. Then, suddenly, he's singing "I feel like a body stuffed in a trunk, from a million years of lying and getting drunk," or one of a myriad other weary confessions that tear at the possibility of carrying on through the day, and your heart is in your mouth. Maybe Adams really is as fragile as he seems, and his chatter is an almost involuntary attempt to stop the silence surging in and engulfing him.

Throughout the two sets Adams plays, there are calls from the crowd for New York, New York, the hit from the period when he was hailed a wonderboy, as pretty and troubled as Jeff Buckley, but with Springsteen's heartland appeal. Adams continues to chafe enthusiastically against those expectations: the song is tossed off as a rattling cow-punk romp, a desultory final encore.

Any fans lost as Adams played cat and mouse with his muse and public are missing out. He sings exquisitely, swooping up from raspy depths into a delicate falsetto, his voice, like his songs, creased by experience. Sure, he goes on a bit; sure, he fluffs lines. It's the sign of a true star, however, to hold an audience even through your screw-ups. Goofing about between moments of transcendence, Ryan Adams is tantalisingly close to, and fascinatingly far from perfection.

· At the Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, tonight. Box office: 0115-989 5555. Then touring.


David Peschek

The GuardianTramp

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