It all starts with a brief but beguiling 25-odd-minute support set from Tiny Ruins (aka Hollie Fullbrook), who takes us on a potted solo journey through her (band’s) discography, with particular highlights being ‘Me At The Museum, You In The Wintergardens’, and the relative oldie, ‘Running Through The Night’. A half dozen or so songs is really just a taster, but Fullbrook is quite a talent, and I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from her in years to come.
Ryan Adams doesn’t muck about. Either getting on stage (9pm sharp) or between songs, and from the moment he launches into beefed up opener ‘Gimme Something Good’ it's immediately apparent the near-full Opera House is in for some magic. ‘Gimme Something Good’ is more a statement of intent rather than a request, and for the next two hours Adams gives us a lot of good things; material from his most recent album is the most familiar for me, but there’s a wealth of older material to draw from, and Adams is only too happy to cherry pick what surely amounts to something close to a greatest hits-type set.
The most striking thing for me, having prepared myself for this gig by repeatedly consuming his abbreviated acoustic – and very mellow – Live at Carnegie Hall album (see here), is just how much richer and complete a number of these tunes sound with a full band behind them – most notably ‘Nobody Girl’, which morphs into an extended full-blown psychedelic twin-guitar wig-out. That song is one of several “climax” moments, coming at the end of a run which includes ‘Peaceful Valley’, ‘Kim’, ‘Oh My Sweet Carolina’ and ‘Shakedown on 9th Street’.
It’s also a mid-concert run of songs that best demonstrates the collective talents of Adams’ band, The Shining, with ‘Nobody Girl’ highlighting the tension between Adams’ lead guitar and the rhythmic virtuosity of fellow axe-smith Mike Viola. Each member of the five-piece (including Adams) gets a moment to, um, shine, and throughout the course of the night I find myself becoming totally engrossed by the old-style mellotron-esque keyboard playing of Daniel Clarke in particular. His subtle manipulation of that vintage beast is truly a wonderful thing. A spiritual, almost gospel thing, even.
If I have a complaint (and of course I do), it’s that the Wellington Opera House – as majestic and as gothic as it undoubtedly is – is not really an ideal venue for a Ryan Adams gig. Especially not for a Ryan Adams gig featuring a full band. It’s all-seated for one thing, with standing room only right at the very front. Myself and my gig-attending companion were positioned in a slightly awkward spot near the wings, which meant when Adams stepped back deeper into the set, as he did frequently, particularly during guitar solos, he tended to disappear behind a speaker stack and we both lost sight of him. Second complaint, on behalf of said companion, how come Auckland got a rendition/cover of the Oasis classic ‘Wonderwall’ yet Wellington missed out?