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23 Mar, Saturday
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Review: Bryan Adams – SSE Arena, Belfast

Canada’s Bryan Adams last sold out Belfast’s SSE Arena in May 2016 and by the looks of the car park queues, streams of people waiting to get their bags searched and Glider drivers telling people it would be quicker to get out and walk than wait for the traffic to clear over the Queen’s Bridge; enthusiasm for him hasn’t waned in the interim. It’s the first night of his Shine A Light tour; his fourteenth studio album that he’s releasing on 1st March and he can’t wait. “We could be here a long time,” he jokes, “I have fourteen albums! Well… thirteen, but fourteen in a week.” We don’t split hairs here; we let him have the larger number. We’re just glad to see him starting his tour here.

And it starts with a roar. Specifically, the visuals of his face in profile swing around to reveal Adams full-faced, red and roaring at us and then he’s onstage suddenly, with ‘Ultimate Love’ from the 2017 album Ultimate. Newspaper headline visuals hit us as the song pounds on. Only being of a 2017 vintage, it’s never going to really get the crowd going though. ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ produces a singalong although Adams relies on a call-and-response that no-one necessarily knows… but they try. ‘Run To You’ feels a bit thin instrumentally until lead guitarist Keith Scott brings out the electric and the song soars, Adams pointing at us and saying “I’m gonna run to YOU!”

The upbeat rock atmosphere is broken by the opening chords of ‘Heaven’. Adams doesn’t even need to sing the opening verse as hen parties all over the arena explode. He comes in at the chorus with no backing singers; just us and we do him proud. There’s a huge thank you owed to DJ Sammy’s 2002 cover version of the song for familiarising a post-1984 audience.

We know there’ll be an obligatory section focusing on the new album and the title track ‘Shine A Light’ goes by relatively painlessly. ‘It’s Only Love’ introduces Tina Turner, who… sadly can’t be with us this evening. “But we’ve got Keith!” who – along with drummer Mickey Curry having been with the band since 1983 – treats us to some superior noodling, and some unexpected bum-wriggling during ‘You Belong To Me’ after Adams tells us to shake any part of our body. The band really did owe it to us to show us that’s okay, and show us they do: those that can come to the front join Adams and turn their backs to us, lifting jackets to show some suit-clad buttocks.

If there was a song this crowd wouldn’t need the lyrics to, it would probably be ‘Summer Of ’69’. But the lyrics are resplendent on the screen, tattoos on a naked body with nipple shots adding to the risque mystique surrounding the song’s subject matter, a long-running internet debate. It’s the turn of Gary Breit on piano to shine as the rest of the band is quiet and only Adams plays acoustic guitar for ‘Here I Am’ leading into an acoustic ‘When You’re Gone’ minus the Mel C and the earlier-than-expected ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’. You can just feel the crowd welling-up, apart from the crowd-member who decides to quiz his girlfriend throughout, asking “Which film is this song from? Who played the Sheriff? I’ll give you a clue, he died last year,” in maximum neighbour-annoying fashion, as well as getting his years mixed up. Adams is blessedly out of earshot and takes his time over the song finale, simply because he can. Applause dies away to become ground shaking foot-applause; some of these people have waited since 1991 to hear this song live.

‘Somebody’ is a driving force, clearing away the emotional cobwebs, “Somebody like you!” is an arrow Adams aims towards us and we lap it up, loving that so many of his song lyrics can be directed at us. Scott disappears and returns with a classical guitar which he makes sing in the Spanish-tinged ‘Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?’ with – thank goodness – film trivia person not having seen Don Juan DeMarco.

We’ll admit it: large portions of this evening are very middle-of-the-road. ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You’ grouped so closely with ‘Cuts Like A Knife’ and ’18 ’til I Die’ are MOR rock heaven, but Adams has his fair share of MOR fans and they’re not complaining at the slightly-too-similar songs blending into each other. Still, we respond thankfully to the pace-change of ‘Please Forgive Me’, Adams beginning acoustically. Gradually the band join, then all of us producing an eerie pre-echo, more than 10,000 people singing the lines slightly before the band perform them. Classic Belfast timing. The Springsteen-esque ‘Brand New Day’ gives us a chance to dance our thanks to these five suited and booted chaps, before they all disappear off stage, and only one returns for the encore.

A six-song solo acoustic encore is a brave step for someone who has had his band behind him up until now and it’s braver still to sing ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ to an Irish audience, first whetting our appetites by telling us about the wonderful Irish song he’s going to play as he clips on his harmonica. There’s a slight unease; a trepidation as a Belfast audience hopes this legend hasn’t horribly misunderstood our identity and when the song begins, the tension is released wildly. He dedicates ‘Straight From The Heart’ to his parents – his Father having sadly passed away- with a touching speech about how they’ve supported him through the decades and afterwards gets the stage crew to switch off all lights, relying on our mobile phone torches. We light the room ourselves and gaze at each other in wonder at how bright it is as ‘Remember’ plays us out… Nearly. We think it’s time to go but there’s time for a definite surprise: ‘All For Love’; the 1993 collaboration with Rod Stewart and Sting with Adams, of course, singing it alone tonight. Except for us. Always with us. Oh, and audience dude? That one’s from The Three Musketeers (1993) soundtrack.

Spoken word poet and singer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.