A youthful, shit-eating grin plastered across his boyish face, popular Canadian songsmith Bryan Adams must have felt like a conquering hero. There he was, simply clad in a t-shirt and shiny, black leather pants, stopping on occasion to survey the enormous mass of humanity at a sold-out Wembley Stadium on July 27, 1996 as if standing atop Mount Everest.
More than 70,000 people witnessed the triumphant finale of his “18 ‘Til I Die Tour.” There were no pyrotechnics, no laser light shows or audio-visual spectacles to distract anybody. It was just Adams, his fairly nondescript backing band and all those monster hits he’d accumulated since the early ‘80s. Ever the populist, Adams had that sprawling, hungry audience eating right out of his hands.
Watching the first-ever DVD release of what was a rousing, undeniably fun performance, it’s easy to get caught up in the infectious vibe and galvanizing spirit of the occasion. Expertly filmed to capture the electrifying energy in the stadium, as well as the group’s exuberance and solid chemistry, Wembley 1996 Live gets its kicks with the swaggering opener, “The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You,” and an endless stream of commercially accessible, blue-collar rock anthems made for cruising the strip of Anytown, USA in a Pontiac Firebird. Adams and company drive on, the raw, rugged horsepower of crowd-pleasing classics such as “Kids Wanna Rock,” “Can’t Stop this Thing We Started,” “Touch the Hand,” “Cuts Like a Knife” and “Somebody” sparking an epidemic of mid-life crises that only intensifies as they deliver schmaltzy, romantic ballads like “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman” with a rather endearing sincerity.
For “It’s Only Love,” a stirring kiss-off if there ever was one, Melissa Etheridge joins the party, adding her raspy, rootsy vocals and boundless enthusiasm to Adams’ joyous defiance. A shirtless kid, who knows all the words to “Summer of ’69,” gets pulled onstage to sing a lovably wonky, full-throated acapella version and earns a beer offstage for his troubles. At one point, the whole band rushes down to a small stage in the midst of this wild throng and blazes through “Seven Nights to Rock,” “I Wanna Be Your Underwear” and “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancin’” with feverish glee before almost getting swallowed up by a herd of concertgoers sharing in a gloriously frenzied moment of rock ‘n’ roll communion.
And when they play “Summer of ‘69” for real, with the band back on the main stage, everybody gets so incredibly high on nostalgia that Adams can almost be forgiven for closing with the insufferably insipid “Heaven.”