by Jacob Wingate-Bishop

It’s mid December, 2022. The first real winter since the pandemic began when we could mingle, interact, go outside. Taste the world, after so long shut inside. Black ice kisses where the tarmac dares show its face, and it feels like we’ve barely seen the sun all day. The great, looming shapes of the capital’s skyline appear from the festive gloom, and that faint – if unmistakable – dome rises up from the earth. The O2 arena. Home to the battleground of many; countless heroes and champions of the arts have fought, prostrated and performed here.

But tonight, after months of waiting since an unexplained cancellation, the O2 will see legendary Canadian rocker, Bryan Adams, grace the stage. And he will defy all expectations.

I had only seen Adams live once before, a little earlier this year at an album launch show in Kingston. He rifled through the tracklist of his latest studio effort, So Happy It Hurts, but here I was really going to watch the titan give his all. My mother (with whom my dad and I drove) is a lifelong fan of the man behind ‘Summer of ‘69’. So, for the both of us, it was a long time coming. A reckoning, really, for all our years spent wearing out his albums on vinyl.

A life-sized, inflatable convertible takes to the skies ahead of Bryan Adams’ set at the O2 Arena, 14.12.2022. (Photo credit: Jacob Wingate-Bishop)

There was no opener. No support act or special guest. Indeed, after three hours or so of waiting – from door to barrier – Adams and his band strolled out onstage as if they were just popping out to the shops. Black jeans. V-neck tops. A bit of hair gel, and their instruments in hand. You don’t go to a Bryan Adams show expecting fireworks and outfit changes, after all. It’s a bit cliché to say, ‘It’s all about the music, man’. But for him, it really is.

For two hours, the Canadian behind some of rock music’s biggest numbers – from the timeless ballad of ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ to ‘It’s Only Love’ – gave his all, marching up and down the width of the stage, so that all of his 20,000 baying fans lying in wait got a chance to look him dead in the eye and screen. Animations, movies and close-ups beamed onto the screen behind them, and if I closed my eyes, I would swear I was listening to a tape.

Adams rocked and rolled through old favourites and new staples, like ‘Kick Ass’ from his most recent album, So Happy It Hurts. We were treated to ‘The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You’, ’18 Til I Die’, even requests from the fans in the form of ‘Take Me Back’ – a deep cut from Adams’ third release, Cuts Like A Knife – and the title track of ‘On A Day Like Today’.

By the time we got to signature ‘Summer of ‘69’ and crowd pleaser, ‘Cuts Like A Knife’, my vocal chords felt weary and worn, something not even metal giants Ghost or the Killers at the Emirates Stadium achieved. My palms pulsed from all the clapping. My shoulders ached from right hooking the air. My jaw killed. I could have done it all over again if it meant more time in that room. Then the lights went down, came up, and an encore of no less than five songs roared through the arena.

Bryan Adams performing ‘Christmas Time’ onstage at the O2 Arena, 14.12.2022. (Photo credit: Jacob Wingate-Bishop)

Witnessing ‘Run To You’ in the flesh – a favourite of the Adams’ back catalogue, sixteen albums strong, no less – sent me howling like a church-bound lycanthrope, screeching and squealing until I was quite sure my lungs would collapse. But I was far from the only one. All of us were heaving and swaying in one mass, undulating rhythm. We boomed along to the choruses, shouted our ‘Ay-Oh!’s and clapped in time to the drums. Adams had us all under his spell, in case his onstage charisma and dry wit wasn’t enough. Bassist Solomon Walker breezed through multiple instrument changes while drummer Pat Steward channelled the power of Thor every chance he had.

Adams closed his set on his lonesome, weaving stripped-back, acoustic renditions of ‘Straight From the Heart’, ‘All For Love’ and – a seasonal treat – 1985’s ‘Christmas Time’. It was two hours since he swaggered out, and he’d barely broken a sweat. Hell, even lifetime friend and guitarist, Keith Scott, could have rocked the night away yet before he headed backstage. Every part of the Adams touring machine was meticulously fine-tuned and firing on all cylinders. It didn’t matter if they were playing Reckless, the arena-rock years of Waking Up the Neighbours or the some of the man’s poppier stuff. They proved, time after time, chart hit after chart hit, that they could do whatever they set their mind to. And have fun in the process.

It was clear from the laughs and smiles that the guys onstage were having just as much fun as we were down there, in the pits, soaked from sweat and lips pained from all the adolescent grins. I’ve been to heavier gigs, metal gigs, and not moved half as much. The band gave us stadium-worthy highs (‘Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’, ‘Somebody’) and rockabilly throwaways (‘You Belong To Me’, ‘I’ve Been Looking For You’).

Bryan Adams never really got the recognition he deserved, particularly for a figure of such rock prowess. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, everything he touched turned to gold – from deep cuts to movie soundtracks. But that night, in the O2, we were all spellbound, and bore witness to a master at work. Adams wore no cowl, no robe. He held no magical orb and didn’t wave an ornate, elm-cut wand. Just jeans and a six-string. Sometimes, that’s all you need.