MANILA -- In the middle of his “So Much It Hurts” concert at the Araneta Coliseum last Wednesday, Bryan Adams compared the night to a magical moment, reminiscing how in his teenaged years, he’d compose songs in his bedroom alone.
When he performed them in bars during his struggling years and eventually when he became a big star and had concerts around the world, he said he realized how those songs affected the audience, how each has become like a personal experience for his fans.
“The reason why I’m telling you this is because it’s like magic and we need magic in our lives. So, this is not just a concert but a magical night,” he said, sending the crowd cheering with their glow sticks and lighted cell phones.
“So Happy It Hurts” is both the title of the lead single and 15th studio album of Adams. It was made available online as a single with a music video in October 2021 prior to the album’s release in March 2022.
On the surface “So Happy It Hurts” is a road trip song that talks about a woman although some music critics view it as a hymn to freedom, of being out there and spontaneous, of connecting physically with people after experiencing prolonged isolation due to lockdowns brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Could be pure coincidence but the date of the Manila concert, March 15, is the third anniversary of the first government-imposed lockdown in the Philippines, initially covering Luzon.
“So Happy It Hurts” is also the name of Adams' world tour that started January 2022 in the United Kingdom and Europe. Now on its Asian leg, the concert in Manila happened thankfully in the conveniently accessible Araneta Coliseum. No need to ride shuttles-for-hire back and forth or endure long hours of waiting before one can get out of the venue due to the volume of vehicles exiting the parking lots.
Most of Adams’ fans were white-haired middle-aged dudes who were just but happy to get a short break from their corporate commitments in the middle of the week. And oh boy, they really felt the magic.
Adams sang a total of 26 songs -- 25 originals and, to our surprise, a rock cover of Frankie Valli's “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”
These were lesser in number compared to his 2017 concert in Manila for his “Get Up” World Tour, when he treated the crowd with 32 songs plus five encores or a total of 37.
Then again, Adams was only 58 years old in 2017. He’ll be singing “When I’m 64” on November 9 this year.
Adams started the concert with the upbeat “Kick Ass” from the “So Happy It Hurts” album. The main stage area was dimmed as the band members took their positions.
Heard from the speakers was a monologue we later learned was spoken by actor John Cleese from the “Kick Ass” music video. The words were also flashed on the big stage background LED screen.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then He created the waters, and the land, and then He created man but man degenerated and descended into the black hole of making bad music.
“So a darkness fell all around. Only He could know of the storm that was coming, the hurricane that was brewing. Yes, there was something wrong, something missing. There was no Rock music!
“So He sent an angel, and out of mist, that angel came. He wore boots, blue jeans and a baseball cap, he had a big ol’ smile like a welcome mat. How cool is that? Then all the world went silent - and they looked up. ‘Cuz they all wanted to hear what he had to say. And after a moments silence, he said….”
The lights were on and there on stage were Adams and his band all wearing their signature black shirt, jackets and jeans. At some point, they all looked like the same from afar, as if they were all five Bryan Adams in a multiverse.
“Kick Ass” was followed by his earlier hits “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” and “Somebody,” giving the audience their much-needed adrenaline and dopamine shots. The band played Adams' hits starting from the 1980s and for middle-aged fans like me, it was like Junior Senior Prom again. You can’t help nostalgia to kick in.
“This was a song I wrote when I was 18 and that was only a couple of years ago,” Adams said near the end of the show, joking about his age, before singing one of his classic love songs, “Straight from the Heart.” This time, he played acoustic guitar and harmonica on a neck holder.
“Straight From The Heart” was the first of the two encores. He ended the night with his immortal “All For Love,” one of the theme songs in the 1990s “Three Musketeers” movie, which Adams did also solo on the stage with a guitar and harmonica.
Adams knew how to please the Filipinos by playing more love ballads or the slower, acoustic guitar-driven songs. With what is touted a national anthem in the Philippines, “Please, Forgive Me,” its second runner-up “Everything I Do, I’d Do It For You” and another earlier hit, “Heaven,” the Big Dome turned into a night vigil with almost all cell phones lighted and everyone waving them like in a prayer rally, singing in unison. At the very least, it’s a feast for the eyes, like a sea of fireflies at night.
A revelation for a first-time audience like me in a Bryan Adams concert was Adams’ long-time collaborator, lead guitarist and backing vocals Keith Scott. Adams let Scott shine with his solos, especially when Scott played the Spanish guitar in “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?” from the movie “Don Juan De Marco”.
He introduced Scott before playing an ‘80s hit, “It’s Only Love,” from the album “Reckless.”
“I recorded this song with Tina Turner and tonight here in Manila…,” Adams said before pointing to the right side of the stage. Everyone thought Turner would come out to sing with him as a surprise number. No one came out.
“Unfortunately, she’s not here,” Adams said. The crowd got the joke and laughed with Adams.
“But tonight we’re lucky we have Keith Scott, one of the greatest, underrated guitarists in the world,” Adams continued and Scott played the opening chords to “It’s Only Love”.
In can be said Scott is to Adams as Keith Richards is to Mick Jagger, or Slash is to Axl Rose.
Keyboard player Gary Breit, drummer Pat Steward and bassist Solomon Walker all equally gave powerful performances and each functioned as backing vocals. They’ve been with Adams since he recorded the recent album and started touring.
Among the highlights of the night were choosing the best dancers among audiences. When the band performed “You Belong To Me,” a cameraman standing on the stage with the band would randomly focus on some audience members dancing, their images seen real-time flashed on the background’s big LED screen. Seen were a lot of foreigners, tourists and expats in groups getting up and gamely taking the “best dancer challenge.”
But among his more popular hits, it was “Summer of ’69” that made people get up from their seats and wildly dancing as if possessed by their younger selves from that era when men were boys proudly wearing polo shirts with shoulder pads. Those were the ‘80s fashion because “Summer of ‘69” was an staple ‘80s classic, written by Adams with another longtime collaborator, Jim Vallance. The song was recorded in 1984 and released in 1985 as part of “Reckless” album.
They said in several interviews it was not about the actual summer in 1969 but a reference to their youth and their influences. Adams in later interviews said it was actually about making love during summer.
In between “18 Till I Die” and “Summer of ’69,” Adams surprisingly gave a lucky audience member from the Lower Box section two front row seats at the VIP section. We found out a ticket at the first 10 rows at the VIP section cost P12,600. Tickets at the Lower Box sections ranged from P4,200 to P5,250. There was no mosh pit standing area in the VIP. All were given seats. Probably the common middle-aged factor.
A petite, bespectacled Filipina in red upper garment and white skirt who had been caught dancing every time the camera panned in the Lower Box was chosen. Adams told her she could bring a friend down to avail the two front row seats.
“Bring one of your companions, doesn’t matter if you like him or her,” Adams said in jest.
It could be too much excitement she didn’t hear Adams correctly, the Filipino woman brought not one but two female friends. But it’s alright. Adams sang an impromptu song, making up words about waiting as he and the crowd waited for the lucky winner and her two friends to reach the Patron section.
The crowd cheered as the three accompanied by ushers entered the VIP area and galloped their way to the front row seats, which surprisingly were located in the middle. They were in front of the microphone stand where Adams was singing.
But they had no use for those seats because as soon as they reached them, Adams and Scott played the opening chords for “Summer of ‘69”.
For sure, like everyone in the crowd, the night of March 15, 2023, at the Big Dome would become among the best days of their lives.