A truly great song is one that can be stripped down to its bones.
That's why so many singer/songwriters subject their songs to the so-called 'campfire test,' the purpose being to see how well they hold up without the assistance of, say, a seasoned producer.
Bryan Adams has more than a few tunes in his estimable catalogue that pass the campfire test, as he proved during Monday night's show at the Centennial Concert Hall. Adams, 54, was through town on his successful acoustic Bare Bones Tour, which sees the veteran arena rocker perform his hits the way he wrote them.
Taking his spartan stage -- just a grand piano and a single mike stand -- Adams wordlessly launched right into his mammoth hit Run To You. He followed that up with another single from 1984's Reckless: It's Only Love, his duet with Tina Turner, which stood up on its own.
Accompanied by only his acoustic guitar and pianist Gary Breit, Adams' vocals were particularly powerful on his most cinematic ballads, including the unapologetically sappy When You Love Someone, his Barbra Streisand duet I Finally Found Someone and Here I Am.
"Here I am/without my band" he joked. But, like a good-natured heckler pointed out, his band wasn't missed that night.
The show offered a nice career retrospective, pulling from all over his career. "I'm just doing songs I remember," he quipped.
A pair of singles from 1991's Waking Up The Neighbours -- a jangly, handclap punctuated Can't Stop This Thing We Started and an arena-sized (Everything I Do), I Do It For You -- were among the night's biggest crowd-pleasers. He told stories in between songs, including one about his formative years opening for Foreigner (which yielded sporadic clapping) and Journey (which yielded considerably more clapping) before blowing the dust off of 1983's Cuts Like a Knife.
Adams was affable and easygoing, even taking an unsolicited request for Back To You and politely telling the rowdies in the crowd to shut up. (He's a nice Canadian boy, after all.)
His voice began wearing out a little about midway through the show, but its rawness (mostly) worked to his favour; a cover of Kris Kristofferson's 1970 hit Help Me Make it Through the Night was given a gritty, whiskey-soaked weariness.
Even Adams' cotton-candy rock hits -- see: The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You, which came later in the set -- were elevated by the lighter, bare-bones touch.
Predictably, the crowd went wild for Summer of '69, though his slightly rushed rendition didn't rank among the night's strongest performances.
No, those included the loving tributes to Adams' songwriting partner of 30 years, Jim Vallance -- especially the striking readings of Walk On By, Heaven and The Right Place, the latter serving as a stunning showpiece for Briet, even if Adams couldn't quite nail the vocal acrobatics.
Fittingly, he closed the two-hour show with Straight From the Heart.