Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Koko, London

Koko, London

Ryan Adams recently posed a question concerning his new album, Easy Tiger: "I'm feeling this stuff. Is anybody else feeling it?" He had only to look at Koko, so full that half the crowd saw nothing but the backs of taller people's heads, for the answer. Having kept faith with him through personal crises, onstage tipsiness and nine albums of occasionally transcendent alt-country, his fans offer unconditional love.

Capricious as ever, Adams repays it tonight with a short, downbeat set devoid of his notorious pugnacity and, by extension, a sense of event. That's the effect of a year of sobriety - his extraordinarily expressive voice may be reaping the benefit in the form of greater clarity, but gone are the surreal asides and entertaining flightiness.

So it's all about the music - and, these days, Adams presents himself not as a solo artist but a member of the five-man Cardinals, to which end he physically plants himself in the middle of the lineup and never steps out front. He is right to share the credit, because the others, especially fabulous pedal-steel player Jon Graboff, shoulder just as much of the load - more, in fact, since a "skateboarding accident" has stopped him playing guitar with the fury that was once his trademark. The rest of his energy, it appears, is being funnelled into singing like a spent, southern-accented angel.

Adams's setlists are traditionally dissected on fan websites, which complain that he failed to play this or that favourite; tonight, he omits all of his UK chart singles in favour of a sedate preview of Easy Tiger and random catalogue picks. The clip-clopping slowness of everything except a tense I See Monsters and the sparkling newbie String of Pearls ultimately robs the show of impact, but doesn't for a moment hide his considerable talent.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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