THE BIRTH OF ROCK & ROLL WAS A messy business. With an instinctive need for communication that just couldn’t wait for formal language, the baby severed the generational cord with a joyous howl of freedom. But that was a long time ago.
Nowadays, many adults who still cherish the sonic memories of their youth can no longer abide the ecstatic violence of current gut-wrenching rock & roll. To them, Bryan Adams is a hero. And in a way they’re right. There’s something immensely likable about this thirty-two-year-old veteran star who sings irresistibly catchy tunes with all the moxie of a teenager jamming in his Vancouver garage.
Adams spent last fall touring Europe behind the mind-boggling success of ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’. As he geared up for the U.S. dates that will precede his return to the Continent this summer, Adams stopped in New York for one sold-out date at the Ritz. Though accustomed to venues much larger than the Ritz, which holds 2700, Adams – backed by the same four-piece band that appears on Waking Up the Neighbours downshifted with aplomb.
Set on an unadorned black stage, the two-hour show could not have been simpler. Nothing went on but the music, and that was as tight and economical as an austerity budget — just a lot more fun. Playing an old Stratocaster through a pair of vintage Vox amps, Adams stomped his left foot to the beat and sang strongly in his expressive rasp of a voice. Guitarist Keith Scott, whose cogently effective solos never overstayed their welcome, provided Adam’s only foil.
Adams played nearly half of his current album, a generally turgid, subpar collection. ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ thrived live — a sturdy groove decorated with chiming guitar arpeggios and keyboardist Tommy Mandel’s organ swirls. A judiciously barebones arrangement cauterized the trillion-selling ballad ‘Everything I Do’ into an appealingly modest number that didn’t drown itself in bathos. But several numbers, namely, ‘Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven’, the retro-Faces ‘Hey Honey — I’m Packin’ You In!’, the mock-AC/DC crunch of ‘Touch the Hand’ and the unbearably melodramatic ‘Do I Have to Say the Words?’, all dragged their heels and slowed the show. Adams’s invocation to “raise some hell” in ‘There Will Never Be Another Tonight’ was sadly ironic, considering the event was geared to no such purpose.
The gig’s momentum — and most of its highlights — came from Adam’s older tunes. The band dug with relish into nearly all of 1984’s Reckless, sprinkling in hits (‘Lonely Nights’, ‘Cuts Like a Knife’) from other LPs. ‘Run to You’ and ‘Heaven’ were dramatic and moody; the anthemic romance of ‘Somebody’ and ‘Summer of ‘69’ inspired the audience to sing along with gusto.
Other than a touching guitar-and-organ performance of ‘When the Night Comes’, a song Adams gave to Joe Cocker, the evening’s surprises came from the rock & roll vaults. Dave Bartholomew’s (by way of Dave Edmunds) ‘I Hear You Knocking’ popped up early, in a solid, reverent reading punctuated by a crisp Scott solo. But Eddie Cochran’s rousing ‘C’mon Everybody’ limped in during the second encore and fell victim to Adam’s fading fuel supply.
Overall, tempos could have been brisker, and drummer Mickey Curry could have embellished the basic studio patterns more. But the band delivered an honest night’s work with skill and enthusiasm rather empty theatrical gestures. As an enjoyable walk on the mild side, it was close enough for rock & roll.
© Ira Robbins, Rolling Stone, 5 March 1992