Bryan Adams sings it straight from the heart

Bryan Adams. At St. Andrew’s–Wesley Church on Thursday, March 20

If Bryan Adams feels like making his next CD an all-acoustic effort, he should go right ahead. With just a guitar and a harmonica, the Vancouver-raised rock icon did his best to convert any doubters among the 600 or so who packed his invitation-only homecoming show at a downtown house of worship.

Promoting his 11th studio album (an 11-track outing entitled, yes, 11), Adams has been criticized for not recapturing the urgent energy of early 1980s pop-rock landmarks like Cuts Like a Knife and Reckless. Most of the new ditties discuss finding true fulfillment in a loving partner (rather than, say, a quickie in the heat of the night); soft, string-laden arrangements abound; and the cover shows the 48-year-old London resident in a slim-fitting suit.

But here, Adams strode out in a black shirt and jeans and let loose on 15 songs in the marvellously reverberant church. The new “Tonight We Have the Stars” led off the show, and it was imbued with that old raspy conviction, even though lyrics like “We’ll eat from good china/And make love on linen sheets” made the song sound like a sad attempt to get into the pants of Martha Stewart.

“I’ve never done an acoustic show in Vancouver before, except in my basement,” Adams told the supportive crowd. His casual good humour during the hourlong gig made the show feel like he was sitting among friends in a living room.

Forget the Amy Winehouse rumours, the soundtrack ballads, the photography books. This was our buddy Bryan, who lived in Burnaby, Kits, and North Van, and loved to rock. When he wasn’t name-checking defunct local clubs he’d played, like the Cave and the Body Shop, he was giving a shout-out to his mom, Jane, who’d just turned 80 and stood up for “Happy Birthday to You”. He told a self-deprecating story about a female fan who hadn’t recognized him at his hotel that morning, and got her to stand up too, blushing.

Adams’s 1980s hits were highlights of the show. A dynamic flurry of riffs completed “Summer of ’69”, and Adams hit the crucial notes in “Heaven” with a truth that could have shattered stained glass. His long-time lead guitarist, Keith Scott, seated with his family just behind the soundboard, came on-stage to add his six-string prowess to two encore numbers, including a rare rendition of “Into the Fire”. Ending the night with “Straight From the Heart” genuinely felt right.