WINNIPEG - There's a word for Bryan Adams. It's a compound word that starts with C and ends in -er.
Yeah, that's right. You heard me. But in case I didn't make myself clear, I'll just come right out and say it: Bryan Adams is a crowdpleaser. There. Happy?
Well, you would be if you were one of the 11,500 ecstatic fans — mostly female, mainly middle-aged and many tipsy — who took in the Can-rock icon's first MTS Centre concert in six years (his last visit was a 2009 solo acoustic show at the Playhouse). And the reason you'd be happy is because Adams delivered everything you want from a big-time, grownup rock concert. Which is to say: Plenty of energy and enthusiasm, some spiffy production, a dash of audience participation, a few laughs and a playlist of timeless hits. To paraphrase one of his own titles: You wanted it, you got it.
And you got it in spades. Joined by his regular band — longtime guitarist Keith Scott and drummer Mickey Curry, along with keyboardist Gary Breit and bassist Norm Fisher — Adams played 28 songs over the course of 150 minutes, beginning with the rousing pop-rocker House Arrest and ending with an acoustic rendition of the anthemic All for Love. Between them, there were enough instantly familiar classics to keep the women drunk-dancing all night: Somebody. Kids Wanna Rock. Can't Stop This Thing We Started. This Time. I'm Ready. 18 Til I Die. Summer of '69. (Everything I Do) I Do It for You. Cuts Like a Knife. Heaven. It's Only Love. The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You. Run to You. Straight from the Heart. And plenty more where those came from. Adams may have more hits than he could possibly play at one sitting — "I've got 16 albums, you know; I don't remember half of them," he quipped at one point — but that didn't stop him from trying.
Most of them were recreated exactly as you remember them, with their radio-ready hooks and catchy choruses intact. Several got stripped down or expanded slightly, to allow more space for crowd singalongs. A few — like I'm Ready and Straight From the Heart — were retooled into acoustic folk, complete with harmonica solos. If You Wanna Leave Me (Can I Come Too?) and Touch the Hand were even presented in a busker setting, with Curry and Scott banging away on plastic tubs, pots and pans while Adams strummed. Ultimately, though, nothing got a truly radical makeover. Adams knows what his fans want to hear.
He also knows what they want to see. The show had just enough production to make you feel like you were also getting some visual bang for your buck. A big, wide (but mostly empty) stage, a massive floor-to-ceiling B&W video screen behind the band (with two more vertical screens on the sides), a camera crew, plenty of artsy lighting (mostly white, with dashes of colour here and there), a microphone-mounted camera, a glitter ball, some tastefully deployed lasers during (Everything I Do) I Do It for You and a puff or two of smoke; that was about it. There were no elaborate set pieces, no satellite stage, no pyro; just good old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll antics. During Hearts on Fire, he and Scott engaged in some horseplay — with the latter ending up on his back — while cranking out some harmonized solos. Scott pulled out some guitar-hero tricks during It's Only Love, playing behind his head and flinging his Stratocaster around his neck. Curry pounded out a short spotlight on those plastic tubs, which was a nice change from the usual boring drum solo. But there was nothing that overshadowed the music or Adams.
After all, he's the guy the people paid for. And he made sure they got their money's worth. There were five mic stands spread across the front of the stage, and Adams — casually dressed in black, and sporting that short, side-parted haircut that makes him look like Win Butler's German uncle Dieter — spent the night circulating from one mic to the other, making sure everybody down front and on the sides got some face time. Between songs, he was casual and friendly if not overly chatty, reminiscing about a long-ago show during a Winnipeg winter ("There was so much snow here that the only way to get to the gig was by snowmobile") and buttering up the crowd with the usual geographic pandering ("Tonight's show marks the end of our Canadian tour ... and correct me if I'm wrong — we thought we'd leave the best for last"). He even shot a short clip to promote Canada Day in New York, using the cheering audience as his backdrop.
To his credit, he didn't keep himself at arm's length from the folks either. For Do I Have to Say the Words?, he left the stage and headed up into the crowd to get up-close and personal with fans. And during When You're Gone, he flipped the script, pulling a woman named Angela out of the stalls to do a karaoke-style duet. "Sometimes this works out really well and sometimes it just sucks," Adams quipped beforehand. Luckily, this seemed to be one of the times it worked. Though his hospitality also backfired: While scanning fans' homemade signs, he read one from someone whose mother wanted to come onstage. He politely declined, explaining they'd already had one fan onstage that night — only to be greeted with a chorus of boos that made him change his mind, bring the show to a halt and bring the gal (I believe her name was Darlene) up to waste time and hug all the bandmembers.
That's what you get for being a crowdpleaser.
Here I Am
Kids Wanna Rock
Can't Stop This Thing We Started
Thought I'd Died and Gone to Heaven
Hearts on Fire
Do I Have to Say the Words?
18 Til I Die
Back to You
Summer of '69
If You Wanna Leave Me (Can I Come Too?)
Touch the Hand
(Everything I Do) I Do It for You
Cuts Like a Knife
When You're Gone
Please Forgive Me
It's Only Love
Cloud Number 9
The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You
Run to You
There Will Never Be Another Tonight
Straight from the Heart
All for Love