Maybe it’s the Knightsbridge location, or maybe it’s the regal command of the building itself, but shows at the Royal Albert Hall seem to be an altogether more civilised affair, and tonight’s inaugural show in the annual run of gigs supporting the Teenage Cancer Trust was no different. This years’ slew of performances have been curated by the Mancunian king of swagger Noel Gallagher, and he managed to snag an impressive pair of artists to start things off: Ryan Adams and Beth Orton.
Beth Orton, never one to be overstated, addressed the audience with a simple ‘Hi’ before strumming the opening chords to ‘Someone’s Daughter’. What followed was an understated, balanced set of new songs and crowd pleasing standards from her breakthrough album Central Reservation, including a skiffle version of ‘Stolen Car’. As Orton introduced her final song the other three musicians vacated the stage, leaving her alone to play a mesmerising cover of the Five Stairsteps’ ‘Ohh Child’, suggesting her entire set might have been better if it had simply been done solo.
After the obligatory soundbites asking the crowd to dig deep and donate (which included a typically witty and comical plea from Noel himself), Ryan Adams shuffled on stage wearing his trademark Ramones t-shirt and tattered denim jeans. Adams has such a distinctive look you could probably pick him out from space but it suits his slightly shambolic style of rock n’ roll, of which there was no shortage tonight. Adams and his band launched straight into ‘Dirty Rain’ followed by the title track from 2011’s Ashes & Fire. He truly hit the ground running.
Maybe it was the beer, or maybe Adams had managed to infect the crowd with so much boozy rock, that the crowd was surprisingly rowdy considering the veneer of sophistication present at the beginning of the evening. The Royal Albert Hall began to take on the guise of a southern American juke joint, surely the spiritual home of Adams’ music. A testament to his musical charisma was when he managed to turn a misheard (or misappropriated) heckle into an impromptu three minute ballad about the lamentations of a loaf of bread. It’s this level of glorious weirdness that endears an audience to Ryan Adams. After the crowd settled the band truly hit their stride, cranking out a run of stand out tracks from the Heartbreaker album along with a riff laden version of ‘Nobody Girl’ featuring some virtuoso guitar work from long time collaborator Ethan Johns, as well as a foot stomping rendition of ‘Let It Ride’.
Then the lights came down, a microphone stand was hastily set up, stage front and Adams moved closer to the crowd to play an intimate version of ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’, his pained falsetto reaching up to the rafters of the domed roof followed by a surprise rendition of ‘English Girls Approximately’, reportedly written about Orton when they briefly dated. Obviously all water under the bridge now.
Adams then pointed out that time was not on their side and asked the audience to join in on the first ‘fake encore’ I’ve ever been a part of. It was nice to have someone dispense with the pretence of walking off stage only to walk back on again three minutes later. And so the evening was topped off by ‘Dear John’ followed by guaranteed crowd pleaser and all round Ryan Adams classic ‘Come Pick Me Up’. As the roars of applause rose around the crowd Adams and his band gave a theatrical bow and ended the first night of what promises to be a run of great shows for a good cause.