Bryan Adams review – floating convertibles and harmony-driven rock chuggers

Twenty minutes before Bryan Adams takes the stage, an inflatable white convertible rises up from behind the sound desk. Propelled by four drones, it slowly cruises the venue’s upper reaches. Meanwhile, on a vast on-stage video screen, a real white convertible is brushed past by a huge marching band, robbed of a wheel by a thief, swooped by a swarm of bees, repaired by a Stetson-wearing mechanic and looted by another wheel thief.

It’s an unexpectedly theatrical, faintly surreal intro for the man fans know as “the groover from Vancouver”, who trades in well-tailored, often prosaic but occasionally transcendent AOR (with a lucrative sideline in blockbuster ballads for blockbuster movies). Eventually, text on the video screen unspools a preamble positing Adams as a denim-clad angel here to save the world with a guitar. That this grandiloquent build-up leads into Kick Ass, a cliched exercise in rock music about rock music that goes as far as to invite the assembled to “ride this crazy train”, is prime bathos. The song’s rote moves sound hollow, not playing to Adams’ true strengths.

It’s not that he can’t rock. Tonight’s two-hour set is packed with crunchy, harmony-driven chuggers in the Def Leppard vein and finds time for drum solos, Hendrix-indebted guitar excursions and a rockabilly vamp, complete with spinning double-bass. Singing of “no Armani suits, no Gucci shoes or designer boots”, he clearly possesses a customer loyalty card with the Levi’s store. And his band’s lean stomp aspires to the no-nonsense magic of AC/DC (albeit if they were humble Canadian blokes and not overdriven Antipodean hellions).

But Adams is, at heart, a pop craftsman who understands that middle-eights and hooks and unexpected chord changes carry more power than hoary riffs. His best music is power-pop elevated by songwriterly flourishes, such as Can’t Stop This Thing We Started, with its rippling, Byrds-via-Mutt-Lange guitar motif and late-song middle-eight, or the electrifying stop-start stomp of It’s Only Love, which is strong enough to get by tonight without Adams’ original duet partner Tina Turner, or the exhilarating rush of When You’re Gone, played solo acoustic (though, again, sadly minus the Spice Girls’ Melanie Chisholm). He’s no rock’n’roll bad boy but a classic songwriting nerd – a guy who impishly leads his group through a giddy cover of Frankie Valli’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

He’s also no poet, and while his plain-speaking devotionals occasionally strike gold – (Everything I Do) I Do It For You has couples swaying to its crescendos and pregnant change from major to minor – his greetings-card generalities tend towards the trite. That’s why Summer of 69 is his finest song tonight. It’s his final concert with his sound man of 43 years, Jody Perpick – the very Jody whose marriage calls time on the teenaged guitar-slinger’s band in the song. You sense him plugging into his own yearning, the bittersweet nostalgia of adolescent promises that couldn’t ever be kept, and you hear him singing his own truth, his own negotiation between rock’n’roll dreams and cold, cruel reality – rather than off-the-peg romantic platitudes and cliched fodder for Jeremy Clarkson’s car stereo.