Bryan Adams. Castlebar Royal Theatre,16 September 2014.
For any other artist, this review might begin ‘making a rare visit to the west of Ireland’, but for Bryan Adams that simply wouldn’t be true. Following on from his headline appearance just ten miles down the road at the Westport Festival less than three months ago, the Canadian superstar is back in the Co. Mayo, bringing his ‘Bare Bones’ show to the Royal Theatre in Castlebar.
Photo: Ger Duffy
Although the number of gigs in this part of the country has pleasingly been steadily on the increase in recent years, for some it’s a treat not to have to travel to the more usual Belfast and Dublin venues on the other side of the country to see an artist of this calibre.
The ‘Bare Bones’ tour has seen Adams going back to basics. He first stripped things right back in 1997, with the release of his MTV Unplugged album. An acoustic album that featured a full band, tonight, he’s taking the concept even further. Without fanfare, a lone Adams with acoustic guitar in hand strolls on stage with a smile, and launches straight into ‘Run To You’. Lit by a single spotlight, it’s one man, one guitar, one voice. And what a voice he has. With no big production or band to hide behind, many a singer would falter, but Adams’ familiar gravelly tones soar, as the crowd are captivated from the off. He follows it up with ‘It’s Only Love’ before being joined by Gary Breit on Piano. “This is the band” he comically tells the crowd. Breit’s contribution bolsters the songs that follow, and allows Adams to show off his not inconsiderable guitar skills. Breit too is no slouch, as demonstrated on ‘When You Love Someone’ and later, on ‘Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman’.
The show is an intimate affair, with minimal lighting and sparse staging. Adams’ stage banter too brings a closeness to the occasion, and when he spots one punter leaving for ‘a refill’, he asks “do you want me to wait for you?” It’s clear that the crowd are on his side, providing percussive hand-claps on cue. Not only that, but they are in fine singing voice as well. It’s genuinely shocking to hear the dominating female voices in the crowd lending their neigh on note perfect tones to ‘Finally Found Someone’ and ubiquitous 1990’s number one ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’.
It’s not all sentimental though, and the pace picks up with a spirited ‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ complete with disco lighting. Adams is of course a pro, and the tempo of the show can’t be faulted as rocker follows ballad follows anthem. Picking out the ‘wildest woman’ in the audience to dance during ‘If Ya Wanna Be Bad - Ya Gotta Be Good’ he even convincingly tackles blues. He’s clearly having fun, pulling out tracks from every period of his career, but of course there are songs that he simply has to play, and when he does the place predictably goes crazy. ‘Summer Of ‘69’ has everyone on their feet, while ‘Heaven’ once again incites the newly created Castlebar choir. Clearly appreciative of the adulation, he gives it back, and upon noticing a pair of empty seats in the front row, invites two ladies that are at the very back of the theatre in the ‘nose bleed’ seating on the third floor balcony to fill them. It’s a fantastic gesture that the crowd receives enthusiastically.
Handing control over to the audience for a ‘request’ section, he plays a snippet of ‘Jealousy’ for one lady, a verse and chorus of ’18 ‘Til I Die’ for another, and offers an apology to one man in the front row who has been to an incredible sixty Bryan Adams shows, for being unable to remember how to play one of his earliest songs. The cooperative atmosphere suits Adams, and as the main set draws to a close he urges the audience to their feet and out of their seats, (“fill up that hallway” he commands!). They don’t need asking twice and pretty soon the floor is wedged, turning the theatre into a concert hall as Bryan and Gary launch into a celebratory ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You’.
The closing encores of ‘Somebody’ and ‘I Still Miss You… A Little Bit’ raise the roof on an incredible night, before ‘Straight From The Heart’ brings things right back to where they started, with a solitary Adams singing under a lone spotlight. Leaving to rapturous applause, he takes time to shake hands with those in the front row before taking his parting bows. The stripped down show offers affirmation, as if it were needed, of not only of what a stunning catalogue of hits Adams has, but also his abilities as a singer, musician and entertainer. Those here tonight have witnessed something truly special. With the ‘Bare Bones’ tour coming to an end, normal service resumes with a full band arena tour celebrating the 35th anniversary of the ‘Reckless’ album due to hit the UK before the end of the year. Whether acoustic or electric, Adams knows how to put on a show. A night to remember.
By Eamon O'Neill.
First published on gigsandfestivals.co.uk, 17 September 2014.