DUBAI // How long until Bryan Adams releases a vintage standards album? Turning to the great American songbook seems like the inevitable next stage in Adams’s growing-old-gracefully project. He’s already released a covers LP (Tracks of My Years) and embraced a quaint, 1950s rockabilly persona for the Get Up tour, which rolled into Dubai’s Autism Rocks Arena on Thursday. Perhaps a country album is on the cards next?
And yes, we all noticed when Adams sung "someday I'll be 18 going on 65" in 18 Til I Die, rather than the original lyric's "55", which was still loudly plastered on the big screen behind him. Time to fire the tech guy – Adams turned 57 in November.
There’s lots to admire in Adams’s back-to-basics approach – slicked back “greaser” hair, the perpetually buttoned-up suit jacket and big vintage guitar. He appears backed by just a skeleton quartet – bass, drums, keys, second guitar – no harmony-helping backing singers or stage-filling horn section in sight. Multimedia is low key and largely monochrome. Significantly, the big screens at the side of the stage are turned off – despite looping numbing adverts during the wait for the show – the message seems to be, “Look at me, but don’t look too closely”.
There was a feel of cabaret to this suited, booted – and distinctly hit-filled – revue. Part of Adams’s groping for respectability may explain the bewitching decision to downplay many of his greatest singles – from shame? boredom? – adrift among this epic, 30-song set.
Rule No 1 of the rock-star handbook: don't fritter away your biggest anthem (Summer of '69) mid-set, and then encore with your new song which is so shamelessly derivative of said hit (Brand New Day), people around me started singing the wrong words. Dispatching 1984's Run to You – arguably his rawest, most real vignette – fourth in the set was a frustrating waste.
But Adams still knows how to milk his well-stocked catalogue of overly earnest ballads. Robin Hood theme (Everything I Do) I Do It for You queued a heap of soppy couples swaying awkwardly, while those gravelly vocal chords proved in fine health with dialled-down, solo acoustic takes on Let's Make a Night to Remember and Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?
At truth, this material suits Adams a little better than the medley of rock n' roll classics he encored with, during which the band somehow managed to make the Wild Thing riff – one of the wildest, loutish, filthiest guitar hooks in the history of rock – sound tame and middle-of-the-road. But then he was redeemed, turning solo acoustic again for closing singalongs Straight From the Heart and All for Love.
A perennial Dubai favourite, Adams has aged as Dubai has grown – he playfully recalled his first gig in the emirate, in 1993, to “25 people and the guy who rode the camel”.
It’s not clear his memory of this (fifth? sixth?) visit will be as fond. Adams took stage time, like Axl Rose six days earlier, to complain about the traffic.
“Are we still in Dubai?” he asked. “It took about four hours from the hotel to get here – what made them put it [the venue] here? Why not there?”
It seems almost impossible to talk or write about Adams’s concert without mentioning the calamitous Guns N’ Roses gig six days earlier – the complaint then was there were too many people. This week, if anything, it was that there were too few – I overheard numerous punters ringing friends, reassuring them that they would be able to see the stage this time, and that the car park/taxi queue really won’t be all that bad. This night was everything that night wasn’t – pleasant, orderly, and lacking in pyrotechnics in every sense.