Musical compositions can form powerful emotional connections between people and memories. Vocals, percussion, guitars, and keys join together to remind men of their past romances; to transform adults into teenagers; and to be the soundtrack for some of the most formative moments of our lives.
But, what happens if one or more of those instrumental elements are removed from the song? Is the connection between compositions and fan frayed? Is the impact any less powerful?
Not if Bryan Adams is the one playing matchmaker.
Over a two-hour set by just the Kingston, Ont., native, his guitar and pianist Gary Breit, Adams tore through a stripped-down set of requested ’80s anthems, soundtrack singles and denim-draped make-out ballads in front of a delighted Shea’s Performing Arts Center crowd on Saturday night.
The Grammy and Juno award winner – now on the newest leg of his minimalistic “Bare Bones Tour” – has been a pop music fixture since first gaining the attention of the MTV generation with 1983’s “Cuts Like A Knife.” In that album’s title-track video, a leather-clad Adams stands and strums jilted inside a drained swimming pool as his lady sheds clothing in a saloon-doored changing room. If this titillating footage were meant to substitute for Adams’ performance talent, then the Canadian guitar hero’s career wouldn’t have made it out of that vacant natatorium. Twenty-one top-ten hits and 65 million album sales later, that hasn’t been the case.
For more than 30 years, his Marlboro-tinged vocals and straightforward chords have churned fans into a rock-addled lather with decades-old hits like “Summer of ’69,” “Somebody.” His tender songwriting has been the soundtrack for both movie reels and relationships with tracks like “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” and the 1991 slow-dance standard, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” But, whether recording songs for the backseat or the driver’s seat, Adams has always understood the purpose of music. Regardless of pace or place, it needs to connect with an audience.
Saturday night’s spectacular Shea’s show proved he still has a firm grasp on this connection.
After finding shelter under an isolated spotlight, Adams flashed his Martin acoustic and delighted with the show’s opener, “Run To You.” With the absence of accompanying percussion, the crowd stepped up, filling in snare and cymbal hits with properly timed claps. For “It’s Only Love” and a harmonica-highlighted “Back To You,” Adams and Breit teamed for economic delivery while not sacrificing the full-band essence of the originals. This was the goal not only with the opening trio of songs, but with the entire performance.
“Tonight’s show,” said Adams, “is about taking these songs down to what they were originally meant for.”
And, even unplugged, each song awakened their original bond formed long ago with collaborative members of the evenly split Canadian-Buffalonian crowd. Through aforementioned hits like “Cuts Like a Knife,” “Summer of ’69” and (Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” fans handled Adams’ vocal duties atop his acoustic chords. He repaid them with such mid-show gestures as bringing two devotees down from the balcony to sit in the front row and signing a young girl’s pink guitar. Between crowd favorites, he served up a boot-stomping version of “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started”; a Muddy-Waters-flavored “If Ya Wanna Be Bad Ya Gotta Be Good”; and the emotive explosion of “Heaven.”
Through it all, Adams delivered a night’s worth of altered recollections to faithful fans, ones that have followed him through decades of live performances and love songs. Backing band or not, the connection’s still there – and it’s straight from the heart.