Rock star behaving badly leaves Nineties fans cold

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The Independent Online
PUNK AND grunge are dead, but that has not stopped one young American rocker carrying on as though drink, drugs, foul language and obnoxious behaviour are somehow still pretty cool.

Ryan Adams, the 23-year-old frontman for the North Carolina band Whiskeytown, has been making quite a spectacle of himself in the past few weeks.

In Vancouver he smashed up a vintage six-string Gibson Firebird on stage. In San Francisco he desecrated the hallowed turf of the Fillmore - the famed venue where Janis Joplin and The Grateful Dead first made their mark - by manhandling microphone stands, knocking sound monitors off the stage and tussling with a bouncer who tried to restrain him.

He turns up to most concerts visibly intoxicated and proceeds to spit, swear at the audience and take off on long incoherent rants.

In Seattle and Los Angeles, Adams walked off in the middle of his set to release his rising bile into the nearest toilet bowl. When he returned, the venom was still there, but at least the green-tinged pallor had gone from his snarling face.

There might be nothing new about rock stars behaving badly, but what makes Adams unusual is the nature of his music. Whiskeytown belong to a growing genre known as "alternative country", a self-consciously retro movement which draws its inspiration from the gritty working-class songs of the 1930s and blends rock guitar sounds and folk mandolins and strings.

Since their debut three years ago, Whiskeytown have been one of the most fancied new bands around, earning rave reviews for their plaintively melodic three albums.

What emerges from their studio work is an accomplished musicianship and the raw originality of Adams' songwriting. There is a punk edge, but nothing that begins to suggest the experience of Whiskeytown live.

When the band started out, the word among hard-core fans was that you should catch them before Adams turned 25, because he was unlikely to live much longer. Now the evidence suggests that his grab for publicity - if that is what it is - falls pretty flat in the tame late 1990s.

"Stay off the drugs, billy," was the advice of one soured fan at a Whiskeytown Internet site. Hey, this is not the Sixties anymore.