It would be very easy to sneer at Bryan Adams. He is responsible, after all, for some profoundly cheesy and saccharine songs; it’s hard, indeed, to forgive such cheese as (Everything I Do) I Do It For You — no, Bryan, you don’t do that for me — or All For Love, but last night’s show at Matakana Country Park, many miles north of Auckland, showed that Adams is capable of quite competent, classy, and, let’s be honest, downright enjoyable, classic rock, and that’s what made up the lion’s share of his 26-song set. The problem with the whole show was that, despite being very well-performed, despite featuring a set made up of some quite outstanding songs, despite an audience who were having a thoroughly excellent time, it all felt just a tad too, well, corporate.
There was a time when Adams sang of youthful energy and the need to sing and play, and while Summer Of ’69 still sounds fresh and strong, and his voice is still keen and gravelly, his appearance belies his age. Along with his four-piece backing band, built around the quite outstanding Keith Scott on lead guitar, he wore jeans, a white shirt, and a black jacket, the overall effect one of middle age starting to take over. And yet, as I write this, and I look at the setlist from the show, it’s hard to think of songs like Cuts Like A Knife or Run To You without smiling, but then I recall standing in front of the stage, singing along with songs that I loved as a younger man and still play from time to time on longer drives, and simply failing to engage with them on a terribly profound level. They’re bloody good songs, of course — there’s no denying that Adams writes a cracking rocker — and he, and the audience around me, all seemed to be enjoying them an awful lot more than I was, but I simply didn’t quite feel it, deep inside me. The video that played behind the band during Summer Of ’69 didn’t help; the song’s lyrics handwritten across a naked woman’s body, the chorus down her bare breast, felt quite unnecessary. Really, Bryan — haven’t we moved on from that kind of thing yet?
And this is a huge shame. I saw Bryan Adams once before, at the NEC in Birmingham, in England, in 1986, or possibly ’87, and I have fond memories of a much more enjoyable show. Many of the songs were the same as last night’s, the tour being in aid of his greatest-hits complication Ultimate, with a couple of tracks from Get Up, his 2015 release, tossed in, Go Down Rockin’ a notable standout, and while it’s hard not to enjoy a performance as polished and as professional as Adams’ — he is, quite clearly, a highly accomplished performer, having been plying his trade for a good forty years or more — I wanted, so very much, to enjoy it more than I did.
I have a feeling I’m in a minority in this opinion. I was surrounded by people enjoying the show enormously, largely middle-aged white women who imagined they were drunk on their second glass of cider and blackcurrant and who were dancing and screaming, occasionally in time with the music, and having a wonderful time. It’s an odd sensation to be among a crowd who are having such a thoroughly wonderful time, and to be left just very slightly cold by the band on stage, but that’s where I found myself. Even a briskly energetic trot through I Fought The Law during the encore couldn’t quite pull me in, but I have a feeling I was the only one who wasn’t sold.
Deserving of an honourable mention, on the other hand, was opener Dave Dobbyn. Like Adams, he’s been playing live for decades; unlike Adams, he had a certain unquantifiable connection with the audience that went just a tiny bit further than Adams managed. I’m sure Jordan Luck, who kick-started the event and who was wrapping up his show with Why Does Love Do This To Me as I arrived an hour later than I had planned, was similarly excellent; his closer gave every indication that he might well have been.