Gig review: BRYAN ADAMS – Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

Of all those gigs I’d already booked when the pandemic started, it was the trio of Bryan Adams shows at the Royal Albert Hall, playing an album in its entirety each night, that I’d most looked forward to seeing and most feared would not take place.

Indeed when a more extensive arena tour was announced in support of his new album, I suspected they might be superseded, but fortunately the Canadian honoured them, immediately preceding that tour.

Of course ‘Reckless’ would be the obvious choice to play a classic album in full, but rather than take that easy route, which was covered when the album got the 30th anniversary treatment in 2014, instead we got the three very contrasting albums either side of it. Those were the days when, in my view, he was at his artistic peak, so while normally I might cast the ‘fanboy’ aspersion on  people attending multiple shows on a tour, this was a unique must see.

NIGHT 1- ‘Cuts Like a Knife’

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

The first night (and only one for which I had a standing ticket) featured ‘Cuts Like A Knife’, the 1983 album that established him as a major force, at least in the USA: in the UK it passed by unnoticed at the time, but then had a high-profile re-release in the wake of ‘Reckless’.

As was to be the form each night, the band came on stage in low key fashion, dressed in black t-shirts rather than the suits they have sported on recent tours, and there was no stage show as such, just the band bathed in plain light, allowing the music to speak for itself other than a few reminiscences from Bryan about writing or recording particular songs.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

I did wonder about his ability to cope with material that was much rawer in those days but the ever youthful 62 year old’s voice sounded extremely fresh and able to hit the notes. The thought occurred to me that the album’s first side is just as good as ‘Reckless’, as they opened with ‘The Only One’ and ‘Take Me Back’, in which the guitars had a Stones-esque raunch. The atmosphere was already crackling at the front, Bryan remarking how much a standing front area  made a difference, with ‘This Time’ bringing it to the boil.

However he then departed from the running order to save up the two big hit songs: instead ‘I’m Ready’ in its original electric fashion was followed by some forgotten gems rarely, if ever, played live including ‘What’s it Gonna Be’, featuring a mid-section bridge with powerchords that suggested a prototype for ‘Summer of 69’ and the punchy ‘Don’t Leave Me Lonely’, a prime example of early eighties Canadian new wave-influenced AOR that in those days put him alongside the likes of Honeymoon Suite and Loverboy.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

The pace dropped a tad with ‘Let Him Know’ with some doo-wop style vocals like REO Speedwagon’s ‘In Your Letter’ and the poignant story of ‘The Best Was Yet To Come’. Finally came the moment people were waiting for in the title track as they chanted along to the ‘na-na-nas’ and the band turning to face Pat Steward, another Adams collaborator from the eighties making a welcome return to the drum kit and playing with a muscular force. The band took their leave for Bryan to play ‘Straight From The Heart’ alone, troubadour style just with acoustic guitar and harmonica.

The format of this residency was for the band to take a 25 minute or so break during which an inflatable of the car on the current ‘So Happy It Hurts’ album cover floated overhead, before returning for essentially a condensed version of the main tour, mixing hits and new songs though without the audience requests that now pepper his shows.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

After that rather naff John Cleese intro the band then made a big entrance bathed in red light for ‘Kick Ass’, far from former glories but a reminder that he hasn’t entirely lost the ability to rock out, before, helped by Bryan and guitarist Keith Scott going over to additional mikes on each side of the stage to work up the crowd, ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ got people in their seats onto their feet, where they stayed for most of the night.

It was proof of the strength of his material that he could slip in ‘Run To You’ so early in the set and it seemed somehow rejuvenated with the most convincing delivery in a long time. Less palatable for me was ‘Shine A Light’, bearing all of the modern pop hallmarks of its co-writer Ed Sheeran but the way the crowd’s phone lights acted out the chorus created quite an atmosphere.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

Gary Breit’s piano intro to ‘Heaven’ brought up a huge cheer –the crowd then took over most of the first verse,  but again the version seemed to have greater power and depth than on recent occasions I have seen it live.

‘Go Down Rocking’ was fun though I was working out quite how many songs it drew from- ‘Glad All Over’, ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ and ‘Angel Of Harlem’ to name but three- but after his usual anecdote and teasing about Tina Turner’s possible appearance,  ‘Its Only Love’ was one of the heaviest of the night – Bryan attacking all the vocal parts with an aggression only matched by Keith with his extended solo, as he pulled shapes and generated feedback-strewn histrionics from a Stratocaster Rory Gallagher would have rejected as being too battered.

The garage rock feel of new song ‘On The Road’ went down well with a sway along section and though not all of the set was that rocky, I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of the 50’s-inspired danceable grooves of ‘You Belong to Me’, while ‘Here I Am’ featured just Bryan accompanied by some superb piano playing from Gary and was unexpectedly good.

Another surprise was to hear him sing ‘When You’re Gone’ solo and acoustic, but the way the crowd joined in led it an intimacy before the inevitable cheers to ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’ during which every single person seemed to have their camera phones out.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

Though I missed some mainstays like ‘Somebody’, I surprised myself quite how much I enjoyed ‘Back To You’, seemingly now an Adams anthem with Keith’s slide and Gary’s piano playing feeding off each other and the crowd clapping along as the band synchronised their movements in front of the stage.

There was a surprise when he dropped in ‘Rebel’ as a taster for the next day’s feature while ‘Summer Of 69’ saw a great atmosphere as fans and band rocked out culminating in Keith and Bryan making a leap in unison which stopped just short of launching themselves into the front row.

The first encore of the title track of ‘So Happy It Hurts’ proved it can be safely added to the list of live favourites, and ‘These Are The Moments That Make Up My Life’ with a U2-ish backing and personal lyrics was a slow burner but an impressive one – though of course I was to get three goes at listening to it! Again the band departed, leaving Bryan to speak of his pride in playing the Albert Hall and close out the show in traditional solo acoustic fashion with ‘All for Love’, and the good news for me was I had two more nights of this to experience.

NIGHT 2- ‘Into The Fire’

24 hours later, the clock was wound forward from 1983 to 1987, an eventful four years in which ‘Reckless’ had made the rugged young Canadian a world star. Yet he made no attempt to repeat the same formula, instead releasing a more mature, darker, and as one of my friends perfectly described it, sombre follow up in ‘Into The Fire’.  If you like, it was to ‘Reckless’ as ‘Tunnel of Love’ is to ‘Born In The USA’, but sold a fraction of its predecessor.

There are at least a couple of experts who I normally defer to who name it as their favourite Bryan Adams album. I can’t share that view but given that very little has been played off it on subsequent tours, I awaited revisiting it with interest, and it received a respectful rather than rapturous reception.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

They tweaked the order in opening with the title track before the first single ‘Heat Of The Night’, the latter with that rarity, Bryan taking the guitar solos. Both were notably slower and less hooky, though there was much to admire in the musicianship and certainly they were the songs on which bassist Sol Walker was most prominent of all three nights.

‘Victim of Love’ took a while to come to the boil before some great guitar work from Keith and ‘Another Day’ was rather lightweight, but a song I had found rather dreary on record in ‘Native Son’ truly came to life with the sweetest of solos from the underrated guitarist.

I always preferred side 2 of the album and sure enough ‘Only The Strong Survive’, with some aggressive slide work from Keith reminded me of the memorable occasion when he led off with it at a sweat soaked exclusive gig at the Marquee back in 1987.

On the aforementioned ‘Rebel’ Bryan  spat out the lyrical tale of disaffected young men returning from war in a manner which suggested this was an appropriate tune for Roger Daltrey to have covered a couple of years previous. The equally thoughtful lyrical anti-war content of ‘Remembrance Day’ came out strongly in a live environment with sympathetic musicianship including military-style drumming from Pat.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

It was interesting to hear that ‘Hearts On Fire’ was an unfinished song from the Reckless era as its bright hooks stood out like a sore thumb, and that the underrated and rarely played ‘Home Again’ was written about his life as a diplomat’s son. So the verdict – an interesting listen which brought out the full subtleties and complexity of a worthy album, but one which will never be a crowd pleaser. One for the connoisseur I would venture.

The second set followed the first night closely other than ‘Cuts Like Knife’ replacing ‘Rebel’, though delivered differently with Bryan playing the first verse acoustically by himself , and ‘All for Love’ was surprisingly dropped.

NIGHT 3- ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’

The final night saw us move forward another four years, by which time Bryan had swapped Jim Vallance for Mutt Lange as his main collaborator and with the latter’s perfectionist ear made an unashamedly commercial, brash and feel good rock record – indeed I like to jibe that it is ‘Hysteria’ with better vocals.  Helped by THAT single, it was also the album that turned him from an arena act to a stadium sized act for some years, but he never rocked out again with such consistency.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

On the plus side this was going to be a more uptempo and higher energy night, which they must have known as this time a film crew was present. On the other hand, as a good half hour longer than ‘Into The Fire’ and twice the length of ‘Cuts Like A Knife’, set timing was always going to be a challenge.  Possibly for this reason, some of the songs were shortened slightly with the odd verse or instrumental bridge dropped (as chronicled in retentive detail by a contributor to should you feel the need to check!)

The other difference as they opened with the big, fun choruses of ‘Is Your Mama Gonna Miss You’ and ‘Hey Honey I’m Packing You In’ (or was that ‘Hot Legs’?) was that his bandmates were going to be far busier this time replicating those gang backing vocals that characterise the album, warming the atmosphere nicely for ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

‘Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven’ was exquisite with its Foreigner-esque verse and big layered Def Leppard-like chorus. Though ‘Not Guilty’ and ‘Vanishing’ were not at the same level, I was dying to leap out of my seat and rock out to ‘House Arrest’ which I remember being the perfect opener when the original tour hit Wembley Stadium in 1992. In its contrasting way, the ballad ‘Do I Have to Say The Words’ was equally brilliant, beautifully arranged with a wonderfully emotional solo from Keith, whose night this was.

Another out and out rocker in ‘There Will Never Be Another Tonight’ (the nonsense lyric ‘gonna ride my broom right into your room’ never fails to raise a chuckle) brought even many in the seated area, your correspondent included, to their feet and stayed there for ‘All I Want Is You’, perhaps the song where the Mutt/Lep-isms were most blatant. They were also present on the mid tempo ‘Depend on Me ‘while by the time of  ‘If You Wanna Leave Me’ with some nice slide guitar work, I was conscious that the running order seemed to be changing slightly.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

The final cut on the album ‘Don’t Drop That Bomb On Me’ I had always found throwaway and yet this rendition really brought the song (an eco anthem before its time) alive and revealed new layers as Keith and Pat attacked its closing section vigorously.

However ‘Everything I Do….’ had to be left to last, though Bryan gave it a typically casual and low-key introduction.  I will admit it is my least favourite of the three ballads on the album, yet this seemed easily the best version of the residency with a beautiful solo from Keith.

However in the interval the completist in me was grumpy at realising we hadn’t actually heard all the album and one song had been omitted. Fortunately four songs in to the second set Bryan turned to Keith spontaneously and – in the stead of ‘Go Down Rocking’- they began cranking out the riffs to ‘Touch The Hand’ and this time the Lange comparison was with his trio of AC/DC albums as Bryan and Keith swung their guitars to an admittedly truncated version.  The rest of the set closely followed the previous night except ‘Rebel’ was unexpectedly swapped back in at the expense of the more obvious ‘Cuts Like A Knife’.

 BRYAN ADAMS- Royal Albert Hall, London, 9-11 May 2022

Never mind a ‘One Night Love Affair’, overall it was a memorable three night stand. Whether inspired by the surroundings of this august yet intimate venue, the sense of occasion or merely revisiting the songs from a younger and rawer period, Bryan Adams really rediscovered his mojo.

After giving an impression of coasting on more recent shows, this residency proved that, when the mood takes him and supported by an excellent band, the kid really does still wanna rock. It was a set of shows to reawaken my interest and remind me just what an impact his best work had on my younger life.

Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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