As an avid fan of classic rock, I was amazed to find that it took me two decades of life to realize how incredible Bryan Adams is as a live performer. My taste in music is peculiar because I often prefer to listen to live albums and unofficial concert releases over studio albums. Adams is one who has made it easy for fans like me, with around half a dozen live releases in his catalog. Live at Wembley was my first introduction to Adams' live presence, and what a show!
Recorded July 27, 1996, at the legendary Wembley Football Stadium in London, England, this was one of the last concert albums to come out of this historic venue before it was torn down to make way for the new stadium. The album, formally titled "Wembley 1996 Live," is two discs, two hours, and spans Adams' 16-year discography. Wembley was sold out on this night, and if you're curious, Melissa Etheridge opened the show. Her set wasn't released, but she does make an appearance during the concert (I won't tell you where).
The show opens with the pounding kick drum of Mickey Curry, and my favorite thing about this album makes itself immediately evident. The crowd is represented in stark, beautiful quality. As Dave Taylor joins in on bass, closely followed by Keith Scott on lead guitar, and Bryan himself on vocals and rhythm guitar, you can hear the roar of 70000 voices carrying the band through. Track 1, "The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me is You," which became a crowd favorite in future years, is still new to this London audience, but they display energy here that doesn't flag for the rest of the night. The band follows up the 1-2 punch of new music with "Do to You," another upbeat track from their latest album.
Then, they play "Kids Wanna Rock," which really sets the tone for the night. This is where the superb keyboard playing of Tommy Mandel comes in, blurring through flashy rock and roll piano slides that will make your head spin. This song also marks the first of many times you hear the Wembley crowd in their full vocal glory, and trust me, you cannot miss it.
The band takes a minute-long break while Bryan says hello and banters with the crowd. He mentions that this show is being broadcasted to 25 countries around the world, and I definitely believe him given how many unofficial radio broadcasts of this concert are on the internet. From that point onward, the band takes the audience through a whirlwind of hits, deep cuts, and covers that last two hours. I have to highlight the percussion work of Danny Cummings on "Run to You" as a concert highlight for me, as well as the superb crowd in every song.
As I see it, there are only two drawbacks for this album, but the largest has to do with the tracklisting. I've had the opportunity to listen to some radio broadcasts from this show after the live album came out. The producers of the album cut out a legendary section of banter present on the radio broadcasts. This is a real disappointment for me because even though the album audio sounds like a remaster of a tape from the radio broadcast, the sound is a bit cleaner in the released version, and I would have loved to hear the banter in higher quality. The other problem is that the sound is still a little bit muddy. You can hear most of the instruments clearly, especially if you pay attention, but each one isn't crystal clear. My theory for this is that the producers had a master recording of the radio broadcast and used that as their source for release instead of a multitrack soundboard recording. I'm quite okay with this, but I am a little concerned that the sound quality might dissuade new listeners.
With all that said, this performance cannot be beat. I am grateful to Bryan and the team for releasing this gig, even if it was 20 years later. What a treat, and well worth the wait. I'd give the album a 9.5 out of 10 and would love to hear your thoughts. Pick it up on any streaming service, or buy a copy of the audio CD or DVD to support the artist!
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