The sight of three white men dressed in white performing with rigorous precision oddly enough calls to mind the spectacle of a decidedly less frenetic, econoline version of the Blue Men Group. Of course, in this case, one needs to account for the fact that this white man group is a little long in the tooth. Canadian Bryan Adams has been going about the business of creating pure pop rock since the Eighties. And this DVD/CD set Live at the Budokan is a pure pop radio mixtape. No matter what type of music you listened to during crazy ’80s, it’s doubtful that when “Cuts Like A Knife”, “Run to You”, or “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” come on the jukebox, you won’t find yourself mouthing the catchy lyrics. I have to admit having very tangible memories of hearing “Summer of ’69” playing on the radio in prep school dorm rooms back in the day, although no one would have claimed to be a fan of Adams’s since we were less than half an hour away from Athens, Georgia and R.E.M. was still playing at somebody’s house party every weekend.
But that’s the funny thing about Adams’s latest release the DVD/CD, which captures one of his live performances in Japan. The DVD offers 22 songs along with four bonus tracks, while the CD edits the main performance set down to 15 essentials. It is a showcase of the joy and excitement of a less than hip artist doing what he does best and basking in the appreciation of a loving audience that isn’t too cool to sing along on cue. Adams (handling bass and vocals), Keith Scott on guitar, and Mickey Curry on drums are solid performers out to entertain and give the crowd exactly what they expect — the hits, ma’am, just the hits — with no frilly jam band instrumental excursions or visual pyrotechnics. This crowd shows they’ve consumed each radio-friendly morsel on the Adams platter and can spit them back whole.
The one truly special moment on the DVD comes when Adams invites a member of the audience up onstage for a duet on “When You’re Gone”. Not that this is the most original idea for a live performance, but after the surprise and goofy banter that doesn’t quite work due to language and cultural barriers, the young woman acquits herself with enthusiasm that makes up for her lack of vocal prowess. The performance illustrates the winning appeal of straight ahead competence. Nothing about Bryan Adams, the man or his music, really separates him from his fans. The guy doesn’t have dynamic chops, heady lyrics, or an outsized personality. Anybody could feel comfortable sharing a microphone with him in front of a few thousand people.
It wasn’t long before I found myself relenting to the simple notion that this was quite possibly the last pop rock music that I might be so acutely drawn to. This was the mainstream sound of my youth. Rap was growing, but nobody knew what it was growing into. R&B was sampling technology. Hair bands were the rage.
Then, there was Adams and I suppose I’m grateful in some small way that he’s still with us. There’s no anger or attitude. The spirit is loose and rather carefree. He’s not preachy or likely to slip into an embarrassing political rant or divulge more than I need to know about his sexual appetites. Maybe it’s a Canadian vibe. I’m not sure, but Live at the Budokan made at least a more acknowledged casual fan out of me.