Concert headliners are paired with opening acts for a lot of reasons, from record-label politics to promoter schemes to fill seats. But how often do you find a billing of two guys who sound so much alike?
“It’s like, who can out-husk?” Bryan Adams says with a laugh of his opening set for Rod Stewart on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden.
“I think he can out-husk me though,” he adds of the more legendary gravel voice.
Canadian rocker Adams doesn’t make a big deal of his seven shows with Stewart, which fall in a busy summer that’s also had him teamed with Foreigner and doing solo acoustic dates.
“I met Rod about six or eight months ago, and we talked about it a little bit. He was like, ‘Just go and do it you know, bloody hell,’ ” Adams recalls, doing a not-bad imitation of Stewart’s Scottish burr.
Many of the tunes on Adams’ new album, “11,” sound like songs that Stewart would want to record. “He’s welcome to,” Adams says with a laugh. But if he’s listening from backstage, Rod the Mod likely will hear just one new one in a hits-filled hour: “I Thought I’d Seen Everything.”
That’s the song Adams performed on “American Idol” in May with six of the show’s finalists. Combine that exposure with a deal to distribute his otherwise label-less disc through Wal-Mart, and it sounds like the 48-year-old is adapting to the new world of the music industry.
“I’ve always done what I wanted to do. Never been dictated by anybody,” he says. Back in his chartbusting days of the mid-1980s, “I would happily have listened to them if they called, but nobody ever called. They just let me get on with it. Every now and then, I’d pop up with a record and they’d go, ‘That’s good. Let’s put this out.’ “
And he always has been a road warrior, which meant no great change when concerts became the only dependable way for a musician to get paid. Adams toured for three-fourths of his breakthrough year, 1983, including a stop at the Aladdin theater with Journey. (“I love the way Vegas has turned out,” he says. “Much better than the Aladdin days, I gotta say.”)
“I’ve always constructed my music so that it was very simple to play,” he says. “I don’t want to try and make it too difficult to play live or rely on any gimmicks. I’ve always tried to keep things really minimal so that when we tour it’s not like I’m going to need enormous light shows.”
It’s not a bad aesthetic for songwriting, either. “When it comes down to it, if you can play the song on an acoustic guitar and make it work, then you’ve done the right thing,” Adams says.
The singalong qualities of “Heaven” or “Summer of ’69” continue on “11” (named for his 11th studio album, not for Spinal Tap) but there’s no power ballad. The songs have a timeless sound — string orchestrations instead of electronics — and sometimes the seasoned perspective of age.
One of them, “Flower Gone Wild,” was inspired by the 1994 suicide of the porn star known as Savannah. “What a sad story,” he says. “I wrote the lyrics for that a long time ago” after reading a piece in Rolling Stone. “It never really turned into a song. Then a piece of music came in, and I sort of married the two together.”
Adams has a small circle of songwriting collaborators, some of them going back to his teenage years. “At this point, I kind of feel like the best idea wins,” he says.
“It’s pretty hard to write good songs,” he adds. “I don’t have the luxury of a band (for collaboration). I wish I had the Edge and Bono (as co-writers), but I just have my little team so I create my world around that.”
If he’s lonely as a songwriter, Adams at least runs in celebrity circles as a photographer. He’s the publisher of the German magazine Zoo, and shoots many of the music photos himself.
Mick Jagger “actually asked me to photograph him,” he says. “Half the time we were just talking about blues songs. I put his iPod on in the studio so we could listen to the songs he had on it.”
Billy Idol is in the current issue. “I had never met him before (even though) we were around at the same time.” And Amy Winehouse is “an old soul. Sometimes when you sit with Amy, she seems like she’s been around forever.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288.who: Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart
when: 8 p.m. Saturday
where: MGM Grand Garden arena, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
tickets: $52.50-$157.50 (891-7777)