Now 55, Bryan Adams was all of ten years old in the summer of 69, so it's unlikely that he played his first real six-string until his fingers bled, much less had bandmates who quit and got married.
So even when he was 25 in 1984, the year his 12-million-selling album Reckless made him briefly the biggest rock star on the planet ( he was the first Canadian to move a million copies here at home), Adams was channeling other people's nostalgia more than his own.
This is what makes his current tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Reckless, such a pleasure for longtime fans. And these were almost exclusively long-timers. Toronto's Air Canda Centre was full but unlike, say, a Prince or Springsteen concert at the same locale, there weren't a lot of young'uns on hand.
Knowing this, the CanCon icon was playing to the guffawing crowd's get-offa-my-lawn sensibilities when he asked if anyone had heard of this crazy, olden-times technology called "vinyl" by way of explaining why seven songs recorded for Reckless, including the title track, went unheard until last year's anniversary re-release. ("You could only fit so many songs on a record, about 40 minutes, or the needle would skip, so I had to do a cull.")
This also allowed him to perform the neat trick of playing "new" songs to a crowd who were there specifically for the old hits because they fit together so neatly having been written at the same time.
But mostly it was the hits, of which Reckless boasted a shocking abundance -- "Run to You," "Somebody," "Heaven," "One Night Love Affair," "It's Only Love" and, of course, "Summer of '69."
Adams' voice remains in strikingly fine form, as strong as ever with a touch more rasp to keep things interesting. He wore black shirt and black jeans, as did his band, and there were no bells and whistles beyond a big screen with B&W visuals, white spotlights and his boot stomping out the beat while his guitarist Keith Scott let loose blistering solos.
He didn't need them, because based on the reaction of the crowd around me as they sang along to every line -- some with their eyes closed, others holding onto each other -- the songs sparked all the bells and whistles in their brains.
"I love it when you sing," Adams said repeatedly during the concert, adding after the final communal encore that "singing full voice like that, man, it's an exhilarating, powerful and magical thing." But the crowd already knew.
Now I'm a little too young for Adams to affect me like this. Growing up on the West Coast, Adams' music was as much a part of the environs as rain and weed, but my enjoyment is rooted in the hits' iconic nature, not as the nostalgic soundtrack to teenage or 20-something memories of epic summers and lost loves.
This is the power of music. It attaches itself to your youth, when emotions are most raw and experiences most heightened, and then acts as a time machine to bring your mind back there when you're older. This is why we love the music we grew up on, regardless of when we grew up.
The half of the show that focused on his '90s output wasn't nearly as powerful, both because the connection to the audience's '80s youth was severed and because songs like "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)" just aren't as good as "Straight from the Heart" (especially as a solo, acoustic-only encore). To put it even more bluntly, in the former decade Bryan sang with Tina Turner ("It's Only Love") and in the latter he sang with Spice Girls' Mel C ("When You're Gone").
There was one latter-day song towards the end of the night, however, that stood out. I remember hating "18 til I Die" when it came out in 1996, a year I spent listening to DJ Shadow and Aphex Twin, Tupac and The Fugees, Beck and Rage Against the Machine. I had just turned 21 and the idea in the song's opening line "Wanna be young the rest of my life" seemed sad, if not pathetic.
Considerably older now, it's still a terrible song but I do get what he meant -- he just wants to feel young forever, and of course, who doesn't?
Two decades later he stood up onstage singing "Yeah, it sure feels good to be alive/Someday I'll be 18 goin' on 55," having reached the latter age with clear vim and vigour. And he shared that feeling with a sold-out arena of fans who may no longer be as reckless as they were in their youth, but still want to be reminded of what it felt like back when everything cut like a knife.
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