A recent discussion thread on social media was to list 15 albums that in some way had changed your musical life over the years. Bryan Adams’ Reckless would have been one such for me. I well remember as a headbanging sixth former, sometime early in 1985, being surprised that here was this guy with short hair playing catchy songs that still rocked and, in contrast to most of the pop that ruled the charts at the time, even had crunchy guitars.
His new album Reckless was swiftly purchased and remains one of my all-time favourite albums, and steered me into a more melodic musical direction. While he was to enjoy even greater commercial success through Robin Hood, it launched the ‘groover from Vancouver’ into the big time and for most fans remains his crowning glory. So, 30 years after its (USA) release, it was a fitting subject for the otherwise over used classic album in its entirety concept on a tour of his adopted home the UK, of which this was the final date.
The first thing that struck me as a backdrop of that grainy black and white album cover portrait gave way to reveal Bryan and his band, clad all in black, was how little he has changed, one of the benefits of never being a slave to fashion in the first place.
But there was a massive surprise as he opened with an unfamiliar but stormingly catchy song, lyrics projected above him, of what would have been the title cut except it never made the record. The AOR anorak in me spotted that it did then appear, thinly disguised as ‘Dangerous’ , on fellow Canucks Loverboy’s next album.
We were soon back into familiar territory with album openers ‘One Night Love Affair’ and ‘She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancing’, the latter seeing Bryan and long-time guitarist and perfect foil Keith Scott jamming, and it was great to hear two of the album’s non-singles, even if Bryan’s voice had perhaps lost some of the earlier passionate edge.
‘Run to You’ induced the biggest cheer yet, and there was even a brief piece of twin leading between Bryan and Keith in the middle, while the audience were invited to take over ‘Heaven’, one of the great ballads, before rockier fare in another of the tracks that did not make the album ‘Boys Night Out’, which had a rowdier edge not unlike Canadian contemporaries Coney Hatch or Helix, and ‘Kids Wanna Rock’.
After paying tribute to Tina Turner for giving him his great break in the UK, ‘It’s Only Love’ did miss her contribution other than a snatch from the disembodied portrait behind him then after the band stretched out on ‘Long Gone’, ‘Somebody’ was left to near the end, as was perhaps the album’s least known (and frankly weakest track) ‘Aint Gonna Cry’ which saw the band at their garage rock rawest.
‘Summer of 69′ though was rapturously received and especially witnessing it live is to hear what is surely the near perfect pop song, but he was comfortable enough to end the Reckless segment with an acoustic version of one of the other ‘rejects’ (in fact given to Roger Daltrey) ‘Let Me Down Easy’, which lost nothing in comparison with what had gone before.
He then joked that he did have 12 other albums and the second part of the set saw him rattle through his other greatest hits. However for me, such does Reckless stand out that this was like tucking into an assorted biscuit selection only to find the chocolate covered ones have already been taken. Personally l have always found ‘Everything I Do (I Do for You)’ rather dreary but judging from the sea of lighters held aloft, the (predominantly female) crowd disagreed.
The presentation of his show may be plain, but there is no doubt Bryan is a skilled live performer, even if the second half of the show was somewhat out of a Royal Variety Command Performance, notably when he picked out a woman in a stripy dress and shone the spotlight on her during the blues-lite of ‘If You Wanna Be Bad You Gotta Be Good’ and invited a charity fundraiser called Lesley to join him in the Mel C role (fortunately without tracksuit) for an acoustic version of ‘When You’re Gone’.
In amongst the cabaret and ballads such as ‘Please Forgive Me’ there were reminders of Bryan’s rockier past with ‘Cuts Like a Knife’, the band stepping onto the drum riser to play in front of Mickey Curry, and ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’.
’18 Till I Die’ was a great fist punching anthem, although I wonder if he still feels ’18 going on 55’ now he has, improbably, reached that milestone. The dreary ‘Cloud No 9′ and a brainlessly enjoyable ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me’ is You ended the main set.
Bryan Adams has been touring separately a ‘bare bones’ acoustic set, but after a couple of numbers including encouraging people to leave their seats and dance in the aisles to a cover of ‘Come On Everybody’, his band left the stage and he played out the final few songs of a 2 hour plus set acoustically – including the simple but effective ‘Straight From The Heart’ where he even played harmonica and ‘All For Love’, encouraging everyone to light up the arena with their cellphones.
30 years on, the rugged Canadian can still put on an excellent arena show on the strength of his songs and genial everyman personality. It was a night though where Sven-Goran Eriksson’s catch phrase as England manager ‘first half good, second half not so good’ applied, simply because it was a reminder how Reckless will always stand head and shoulders above his, and indeed nearly everyone else’s, other works.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
Album review (Reckless, 30th Anniversary edition)
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