Tonight I was the victim of a crime, and I never saw it coming. Okay, neither of those statements is entirely true. I did lose my socks tonight, but only because the iconic Bryan Adams rocked them right off.* And yes, I should have seen it coming, given that for as long as I can literally remember, I’ve been rocking out to this man’s music. When I saw that he was coming to town (much earlier this evening at San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, for those that missed it), I quickly made a note on my calendar. I knew this was one I wouldn’t want to skip, and I was excited for it. But it wasn’t until he began to play hit after hit that I started to realize just how talented this guy is. One thing, specifically, that I love about Adams’ tunes is that he can write a killer ballad/love song without it being syrupy sweet or cheesy. They’re romantic as hell, but they don’t make me want to vomit (or change the radio station). In my book, there isn’t much better than that.
The first thing I noticed upon walking into the venue was something I’ve never, ever seen before in this location: chairs at the Warfield! I swear, I’ve seen a thousand shows here and they’ve always just been general admission on the floor. I’m not complaining, as I never really mind having an assigned seat, but it’s crazy how much smaller the space looks when there are rows of chairs lined up inside it. The stage was set with a lovely piano, a mic stand, and a banner displaying a skull with a top hat and the words “The Bare Bones Tour.” From the looks of things, they meant it. As the crowd began to get antsy for the show to start, I took note of several tipsy older women “woo”-ing throughout the crowd. Thankfully, they didn’t have long to wait: out came Bryan Adams, dressed simply in a black shirt and jeans, wearing a top hat and a huge smile. He carried his acoustic guitar and was lit by a single spotlight. He bowed and immediately began the first song, “Run to You.” Right away it was easy to see that he loved the applause and appreciation from the crowd, which would prove true throughout the evening. I often noticed his face lighting up when the crowd would sing along or cheer for certain songs. Quite frankly, his excited humility was adorable. “Thank you!” he said. “Welcome to the Bare Bones show.”
“It’s Only Love” came next, after which Adams introduced accompanist Gary Breit on the piano (who was dressed the same, including top hat). For “Back to You,” Adams played guitar and harmonica simultaneously. I’m a girl who can’t read music or play any instruments at all, so this is a feat that never fails to impress me! “Ladies and gentlemen, how are you this evening?” Adams asked. “In case you don’t know what’s gonna happen this evening, this is the band. No drum riser is coming out of the stage: it’s just me and Gary.” He went on to explain that they would play some of his thirty years’ worth of music, saying that he had “some reservation” about it because it would have to be “just whatever I can remember. We’ll play some good ones.” Next up was “Here I Am,” which is one of the few songs of the evening I didn’t already know, but like so many of its predecessors, was a song I quickly decided I liked. “Here I am… here I am…” Adams sang. “Without my band… here I am…” A laugh from the crowd followed, and someone shouted out, “you don’t need your band!”
“What was that?” Adams asked, and then played his harmonica in response. “Okay, so go ahead,” Adams addressed the noisy crowd as a whole. “Get it out now.” He then explained that the next song was a pretty one that he’d written for his MTV Unplugged album, “about fifteen years ago.” Beyond that, he explained, it got put in a movie. (Hope Floats, with Sandra Bullock.) “We call that a bonus,” Adams explained. “You might call it gravy.” This year it was recorded by the legendary Kenny Rogers, he went on to say, and that he had written to Kenny to thank him for recording it. Rogers replied, saying that he loved the song and “blah, blah, blah,” prompting Adams to wish he’d written to Sandra Bullock, thanking her for making the movie. The song turned out to be “When You Love Someone,” and it was at about this point in the show that I decided two things: I’m quite certain the witty Adams is an introvert, and I’m positive that he sounds even better live than he does on record – his vocal tone is absolutely gorgeous. (Which I hope is always a goal for a singer.)
“Thank you!” During the next song, “This Time,” the house lights flashed every time the crowd sang a line in the song. “Hey, turn the lights on for a sec,” Adams requested. When the venue obliged, he quickly shook his finger and said, “turn it off.” Before he could offend anyone, he added, “you look hot!” Next was a song for another movie, written with a “really fantastic musician, Marvin Hamlisch,” followed by a list of other impressive names Adams has worked with in his decades-spanning career. He joked that the “first part of the show is like movie hour… without the movies,” and called the next song a “nice song about meeting someone” or conversation, finally suggesting he would “shut up and play it.” The song, “I Finally Found Someone” was one I’ve heard but never really listened to, and turned out to be one of the gorgeously romantic, non-cheesy ballads I mentioned at the beginning of this review.
“Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” was next, during which Adams tried to get the (seemingly shy) crowd to help him sing. Several joined in clapping to create a beat, but few sang along. While Breit returned to the piano for the next song, Adams surveyed the crowd, asking if there were any “wild women here tonight?” He was looking for “one wild woman,” and when he spotted a certain blonde in the crowd, he asked her, “can you dance?” She came down from her seat to the front row, drink in hand, dancing all the way. Honestly, at first I thought she might make a fool of herself, but instead she turned out to steal the show. While Adams played “If Ya Wanna Be Bad, Ya Gotta Be Good,” our ‘wild woman’ earned every second of her spotlight. I don’t know how he knew to pick her, but she was the perfect choice: a great dancer with a good sense of humor and a little comedic timing. “Come down and get closer, come here!” Adams urged her. She took a drink from a girl in the front of the orchestra, continuing to dance. When the song closed, Adams and his blonde took turns blowing kisses to each other, until she held up her hand and pointed to her wedding ring. In response, he turned his backside to her and pointed to his bum. Then they shook hands, and Adams asked the crowd to give Jules her due, which they were happy to do. “I love this town,” he said softly, but just loudly enough to be heard.
As requests came in from around the theatre, Adams good-naturedly fielded them, saying, “I promise we’re gonna get to as many as I can remember!” Next was “Room Service,” which I didn’t know. I noticed again that Adams really seems to enjoy what he does, which is something I never get tired of seeing. Without much warning, he next launched into huge hit “(Everything I Do) I Do it For You.” As soon as it began, the crowd cheered in excitement, causing Adams’ face to light up. As the audience finished the second chorus, Adams turned to Breit, raised his eyebrow, and then broke into another huge grin. The crowd finished the song with him as he pointed to Breit. They both bowed as Breit once again left Adams alone on stage. “Do it again!” a voice called out from the crowd. “Do it again?!” Adams repeated. “What are the chances?” He joked that he hadn’t rehearsed all day just to do one song. “Listen, I got a song that you’re gonna like just as much as that. Trust me.” And of course he did: “Cuts Like a Knife” was next, with Adams asking the audience, “what do you say?” and the crowd shouting back, “cuts like a knife!!” Somewhere along the line during the show, I started to feel like I was in a giant room full of people I knew: by then the crowd didn’t feel shy about singing along to each and every song, so this one’s “na na na” part was really fun to witness. It felt very informal, but was fun, and rather than minding, Adams seemed to be enjoying it as much as his fans. “Are you ready?” He asked. “Three, two, one!” At the end of the countdown, the audience’s collective vocal sang the “na na na” part without him so he could watch with the house lights up, proclaiming it “bad ass.”
Between songs, Adams explained that he hasn’t played San Francisco since 2011, saying “since then, we’ve got a lot better, ’cause we do this a lot now.” From the crowd came another request: “’69, baby!” (From a guy, lest anyone get the wrong impression of the request.) “No,” Adams replied. “2009, baby!” He continued with his story, saying that eventually the Bare Bones concept got so good, “we even got a backdrop,” explaining that he’d asked for the graphic to “look something like me,” and that they “got the teeth right.” The joke is that the graphic is of a skull in a top hat. Adams said that his 85-year-old mother, who’s “all there” saw the logo and asked him, “darling, what is that?”
“That’s supposed to be me, Mom.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
What Adams didn’t know at the time, however, was that his mother needed cataract surgery, and really couldn’t see the skull. “She’s coming back,” he said, so she’ll actually see it then, but he added that she’s “seen a lot worse.” Then he admitted that he was “talking a lot,” asked for the house lights again, and picked two people in the very back to stand up. “No, no, back row,” he scolded. “Anyway, that’ll get you backstage, not on stage,” and then to the girls he was trying to pick: “bring your friend and come down. I’ll give you two seats in the front. Unless you wanna stay up there?” As they made their way to the floor, he asked, “who’s that screeching at me over there?”
“You sat down again,” Adams’ bewilderment was comical, and the girls’ lagging held up the whole show. “Do you wanna come down here? I can see you dancing, yes, you. Bring your friend and come down here. That’s the last time I’m gonna mention it.” (It wasn’t.) “Problem is, everyone has a white shirt on up there! Hurry up! They’re still up there, come on! Here they come. This takes a long time… Don’t worry: we’re gonna cut this bit out of the show, you’ll never know it happened. Should we do a song while we wait?” Most of us just listened and laughed as the girls took their time making their way down; I couldn’t see them until the finally emerged near the stage. “Jeez, come on, woman, get down here! What the hell took you so long?” The girl graciously thanked Adams for the upgrade. His response? “Glad you made it.” Finally, he began “Please Forgive Me,” during which I decided he’s the absolute master of the love song. Though he would go on to offer his own opinions about which songs were the prettiest of those he’s written, this one in particular is not just my favorite of his, it’s one of my all-time favorite songs, and it gave me chills to hear it live in such an intimate setting. It was flawless. Somewhere in the middle, though, Breit muttered something about Adams sounding “like Blake Shelton.”
“I do?” While this prompted several boos around the venue, Adams took it in stride, singing several lines with a distinctly exaggerated country twang.
During the next song, “Summer of ’69,” Adams clearly appreciated how much fun the dancing women in the front of the orchestra section were having. Meanwhile, my curiosity got the best of me and I did a quick Google search to satisfy it. My hunch was right, it turned out: though Adams has completely captured the spirit of the era in music (though I only know from history, having been born much later myself), I did the math. In the summer of ’69, Bryan Adams had only reached the ripe old age of nine. Still, this has no bearing on how enjoyable the song is and always will be, and he really rocked it out, especially given that this show was entirely acoustic. “Walk On By” was next, and then, “this is a pretty song. It could be my prettiest song.” Adams went on to explain that he’d written it at the age of 23, but that it was “one of those we held back for a bit before we released it.” He always liked it, but he “didn’t know if everyone else would like it too.” Though the song has now been successfully covered by multiple artists, he recalled the day someone asked him if he’d seen the version that had eighteen million hits on YouTube. “What’s YouTube?!” (He knows now; he has a YouTube channel. He just didn’t know at the time.) During the story, he forgot what exactly his point had been. “I was gonna say something… oh yeah. I can’t remember. I was gonna tell you a great story. I forget it. It doesn’t matter; it’s only the music that matters.” When “Heaven” began next, the crowd sang along from start to finish. When Breit came in on the piano, the audience cheered. This one featured a great little guitar breakdown, and I noticed that Adams seems to enjoy “faking out” the fans: he’ll sing the first part of a chorus’ final line and let the crowd finish it, and then he’ll sing the end of the line on his own with a huge smile, enjoying the interaction. After another round of bows and a quick “thank you very much,” Adams looked to Breit, who nodded.
“Alright. I remembered what I was gonna tell ya: it’s kind of just a little more of an intro to what the show is about,” Adams explained. He went on to say that this type of show “breaks it down to the finest, most intimate version.” He suggested that some of the fans in attendance might be hearing some of his songs as though for the first time, “even if you already knew them,” which I’d already experienced personally earlier in the show. “This is how they’re created: this is what I do, this is my craft.” For that, the crowd cheered enthusiastically, and rightfully so. “Many of my songs are written for a band, but they start simple, just like this.” Next was a song he wrote with two of his favorite musicians: Sting and Rod Stewart. The song, “All for Love,” was the next to give me the chills when the audience sang the chorus with the singer. Though it was on the radio back in 1993, I remember the harmony between the three musicians so well, and it’s completely different to hear a crowd try to fill that sound, but it worked. It was excellent.
“Let’s take a request,” Adams suggested to Breit. “18 Till I Die!” a woman named Denise requested from the front of the orchestra, and they quickly obliged. “Something like that,” Adams said when they’d finished, adding that there was a “set list in my mind. I’m getting there. I promise you, I’m gonna play that song. Hang on to your pants!” he teased. “What are we doing, Gary?” The next song, he said, was featured on his (live) Bare Bones record. He also noted that it was recorded in the past by “a guy from American Idol,” who “really pissed me off,” because of his beautiful version, which Adams called “great.” (The contestant he referred to was winner Taylor Hicks.) “I wanna do it because it’s called ‘Right Place,’ and I feel like I’m in the right place now.” After that came “The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You,” a quick “thank you, San Francisco!” and a bow (top hat and all) to a crowd on its feet. With that, Adams left the stage.
As quickly as he’d left, he was back for an encore, starting with “Somebody,” and then asked the crowd to come down and fill in the front orchestra section. “You’ve Been a Friend to Me” was next, followed by more humble “thank you”s and an adorable thumbs up to the crowd. “I promised this lady that I’d play this song for her. The other song I said was my prettiest song, but I think this is my prettiest song. It was beautifully transposed from Spanish guitar to the piano by Gary Breit.” This became the intro for “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman,” and at its conclusion, Adams pointed to Breit for a little more love and recognition from the crowd. “I Still Miss You… a Little Bit” followed, featuring a great little piano solo by Breit. “Gary Breit!” Adams shouted, obviously proud of his accompanist. “He’s the real talent of the band.” Humbly, Breit smiled, bowed, and left the stage. “Thanks for comin’ out. I hope you enjoyed the show.” With his guitar and harmonica, Adams closed the show with one final song, “Straight From the Heart.”
“Thank you very, very much,” he said as the house lights came up again. He tossed out the rest of his guitar picks, threw out another thanks to his “wild woman Jules,” and thanked everyone once more for coming out. As he accepted a bouquet of roses from a woman in the crowd, he donned his top hat once more and left a room full of cheering people, thrilled by his performance.
*Okay, I admit it: I came home with socks and shoes both still on my person. No socks were actually harmed in the making of this review! Still, damn. What an absolutely amazing show! I don’t know why I sound so surprised; I’m definitely not. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t have enjoyed this man’s performance, as most everyone agrees he’s a fantastic musician. Furthermore, it’s almost always fun to see an artist like this in a small and/or acoustic setting, but I had no idea how awesome his voice would sound live, or how charming he would be in person. Someone said “see you next time!” to him and he said, “I’d rather see you Thursday!” At first, I thought he was joking, but then remembered that he’s playing Santa Rosa in a few days. I’m tempted to get a ticket and go see it all over again. You definitely should. Trust me.