Corey Hart – Never Surrender Tour + Glass Tiger @ Bell Centre

Corey Hart

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Concert Review of Never Surrender Tour – Corey Hart + Glass Tiger at Centre Bell June 15, 2019

Corey Hart @Bell Centre
Corey Hart @Bell Centre

The “comeback tour” is a very special phenomenon in the world of rock music, and it’s a context that can make many cynical showgoers roll their eyes as they debate whether to buy a ticket. Just ask the KISS Army, who have seen their favourite band retire, reunite, return more times than they can count. But for all of the obvious cash grabs from bands that just can’t hang it up and from one-hit-wonders looking for another kick at the can, comeback tours can also have a strong narrative of redemption and celebration. I’ll admit that I was preparing myself for more of an exercise in nostalgia from the guy with the shades, oh yeah – but Saturday’s emotionally-charged evening at the Bell Centre brought me to tears. I never thought I’d cry at a Corey Hart concert. 

Corey Hart - Never Surrender Tour
Corey Hart – Never Surrender Tour

Glass Tiger

Glass Tiger started off the evening with a celebration of their own, touring their latest album 33 and its commemoration of the years that they’ve been making music together. Starting off strong with their 1983 smash “Don’t Forget Me When I’m Gone”, the Newmarket group opened up a short set that often winked to the past, peppering other 80s classics like “Thin Red Line” and “Someday” with jokes about eyeshadow, big hair, and being “too young” to know what a cassette is. Even new songs like “This is London” paid due to cited influences like Zeppelin and The Who as filtered through the boogie-woogie of Huey Lewis and the News.

But vocalist Alan Frew was also dead-set on acknowledging the present and the future. Partway through the set, he shared with the crowd how he had undergone surgery just two weeks ago for a broken neck –  a procedure that rendered this tour very unlikely. Giving a nod to the headliner’s own “Never Surrender”, Frew showed just how happy he was to be following that credo and bouncing around on stage with his band, leading the crowd through life-affirming singalongs of “Diamond Sun” and “This Is Your Life” into a standing ovation of appreciation.  

Corey Hart
Corey Hart

Glass Tiger Setlist

Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone)
My Song
I’m Still Searching
Thin Red Line
This Is London
My Town
Diamond Sun
This Is Your Life

Corey Hart

This appreciation continued straight into Corey Hart’s arrival, announced by an opening slideshow of archival footage and fiery graphics as the sizeable band took their spots on the stage. Corey hit the scene as a wolf logo popped up on the screen, and the guitarist (Canadian-clad in kilt and Tragically Hip tee) began strumming the jubilant title track from “Dreaming Time Again” – Hart’s first proper album release in twenty years. 

While Glass Tiger’s new work had prepared me for another set of light updates to tried-and-true 80s sounds, Hart’s return to the music world confidently swings for the fences with a maturity that declares: “we’re a long way from the boy in the box”. Instead, backed by a full band and trio of singers (Alana Bridgewater, saxophonist Alison Young, and his wife Julie Masse), Hart’s opening salvo sounded like Blue Rodeo taking a pit stop on E-Street, with Corey making a bid for being The Boss in the North by running back and forth on stage like a live-wire as his keyboardist went bananas, building up to a sax solo from Young that could make the Big Man blush. 

Corey Hart
Corey Hart

Despite this surprising sonic shift, Hart is not embarrassed by his roots – and neither was the crowd, following Hart right back into his discography with the wet drums and shredding guitar solos of 1990’s “Bang!” and 1985’s “Boy in the Box”. Jogging up and down the two-tiered stage, Hart was animated by an energy that positively crackled, planting his mic stand like a flag that announced “I’m back!” – not with cockiness, but with genuine joy and appreciation. His voice is in excellent shape as well, having been seasoned over the years into a very Sting-esque timbre (a comparison that would seem to be acknowledged by a short interpolation of “Message in a Bottle” later in the set).

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist receive a standing ovation from a crowd after just three songs, but this was no ordinary crowd. I knew that Hart had a special relationship with Montreal, having been born here and having chosen the Bell Centre as the site of his 2014 farewell extravaganza. What I didn’t know know was how positively beloved he is by the mostly francophone and very age-diverse Montreal audience, whose cheers reduced him to tears as he walked down the catwalk to greet the crowd. Confidently switching between English and French across the evening (“I want to be respectful of everyone”), he shared how important this city is to him and to his long journey of achieving his dreams – and he was paid back with love in kind.

Corey Hart
Corey Hart

Far from the cynical cash-grab I’d expected in the back of my mind, this was the first in many moments of genuine emotion from across the evening. It was then immediately followed up by an equally heartfelt performance of the entirely francophone “Là-Bas”, a duet with his wife Julie Masse. A 90s pop superstar across Quebec, Masse joined Hart in semi-retreat from the music industry to raise their four children. I never thought I’d find myself wishing for sunglasses as I welled up in the Bell Centre at a Corey Hart concert, but yeah, I’ll say it – seeing a window into the purity of their musical and personal partnership was a totally unexpected and affecting experience.

After making sure that everyone else felt included with a love song to all the fans that supported him over the years, the sentiment was further amplified by a transition over to the B-stage, a tight circular platform toward the back of the Bell Centre. The band made the trip across the arena in darkness, while the crowd watched a short interview between Hart and his son about the wounds inflicted by the absence of his own father, the importance of taking care of your family, and the vitality of “chasing the sun”. When the lights came up again, the whole group was crowded around a piano and several cushions, done up to recreate the intimacy of Corey’s childhood bedroom and its lonely nights of writing songs like “She’s Got the Radio”. 

Corey Hart
Corey Hart

This confirmed that I really was participating in a special experience that should be hard to create in an arena setting. But somehow, this mini-set was able to bring even the cheap seats into Hart’s personal universe. This included a serenade to Quebec comedian Mélanie Maynard (“Jenny Fey”), a dedication to Julie (“Tonight (I Wrote You This Song)”), and a powerful cover of “Let It Be” for his brother-in-law on his birthday, bringing him on stage to embrace him tightly and comfort him in the wake of his son’s death by suicide (“It’s time to let go now, okay?”).

After a bit of a jarring transition back to the main stage with more upbeat songs like “Tell Me” and “Spot You in a Coalmine” (a showcase for the mighty Alana Bridgewater to shine), Hart closed the set with a pair of covers: one beautiful (a duet of “L’Hymne à l’amour” with La Voixwinner Geneviève Jodoin) and one confusing (“Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)”). And while he would end up playing them in a triumphant encore (along with another confusing cover of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida”), it felt as if the crowd wouldn’t have batted an eyelash if he had just gone home without playing “Sunglasses at Night” or “Never Surrender”. Instead of a money-driven hit parade, this was a true homecoming – and Corey Hart was welcomed back with leather jackets, dark shades, and open arms.  

Corey Hart Setlist

Dreaming Time Again
Bang! (Starting Over)
Boy in the Box
Là-Bas (with Julie Masse)
In Your Soul
It Ain’t Enough
Everything in My Heart
A Little Love
Message in a Bottle / She Got the Radio
Jenny Fey
Tonight (I Wrote You This Song)
Let It Be (The Beatles Cover)
Tell Me
Spot You in a Coalmine
L’Hymne à l’amour (Édith Piaf cover) (with Geneviève Jodoin)
Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor) (Moon Martin cover)

Sunglasses at Night
Viva la Vida (Coldplay cover)
Never Surrender

Review – Dan Corber
Photos – Eric Brisson

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