’80s phenom Corey Hart wows fans at Victoria concert

What: Corey Hart with Glass Tiger
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, 1925 Blanshard St.
When: Monday

Corey Hart has scored a dozen Top 10 hits in Canada — including the 1980s smash Sunglasses at Night — but you’d never know he was a global phenomenon in his heyday by the way he handled himself in concert Monday night.

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He was every bit the unassuming rock star, which made it difficult to imagine that he was, at one point, as big as Bryan Adams in this country. But that’s what Hart’s first tour of Canada in 32 years was for — to remind the audience who the father of four was at his peak and of his lasting impact on fans born in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A lot has changed in the pop world since Hart last toured across Canada, but he carried himself with confidence before 3,531 very boisterous fans at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, his first Victoria concert since a date at the former Memorial Arena in 1984. The Montreal native was in good shape throughout, hitting the notes that were expected of him and nailing the nuances of a rock star tasked with fronting a powerful eight-piece band.

Three songs in, Hart pulled a male fan holding a sign that read “Bro Hug?” out of the audience and hugged him. “That’s the first time for a bro hug,” Hart said after the embrace. “I’ve had lots of babe hugs, but never a bro hug.” It wouldn’t be the last hug he’d give on this night.

It was a relaxed start to the concert, which only got more comfortable and likable as it progressed. Hart’s longstanding reputation as a rock ’n roll Everyman, despite career album sales of 16 million copies, is in good standing after this performance.

He played a set with some of his bandmates at a satellite stage he called the Kitchen, which gave him the opportunity to play up close with fans, something he couldn’t do at the height of his fame. “I don’t think I would have gotten out alive,” he said with a laugh.

He told stories about his upbringing during the mini set from the rear of the room, peppering some choice cuts, including a cover of The Police’s Message in a Bottle, with good-natured humour about his ’80s image (“I’m sorry about all the pouting”).

The highlight came when he read aloud a letter from a fan who had traveled from Japan to Victoria for the show, having dreamed of meeting Hart one day. The singer found her in the audience, gave her a hug, and brought her onto a couch on the side stage for a performance of I Am By Your Side that left few dry eyes in the house.

Hart was joined on the bill by opening act Glass Tiger, an Ontario group with a similar pedigree. Both acts were early successes in the U.S. — Hart garnered a Grammy Award nomination for best new artist in 1984, while Glass Tiger competed in the same category in 1986 — but they continue to draw bigger crowds in Canada. There’s no shame in that; if anything, it added an extra layer of Canadiana to what was already a throwback to the era of “the nation’s music station,” video channel MuchMusic.

Glass Tiger, which got its start in 1983, offered a run of recognizable hits during its 50-minute set, including Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone), Thin Red Line and My Town, during which frontman Alan Frew — who broke his neck less than a month ago — led the crowd in a robust singalong. There was a lot to like about the band, from its upbeat take on the hit Someday to the presence of original members Frew, keyboardist Sam Reid and guitarist Al Connelly. A well-deserved standing ovation closed the set.

Hart’s night was equally homespun and warm. He could work magic with the simplest of tricks, but he hit one home run after another the old-fashioned way. It Ain’t Enough, Boy in the Box and Everything in My Heart were impressive, and the night’s closing trio of songs, Sunglasses at Night, a cover of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida and Never Surrender, sent fans home happy.

His tour wraps Tuesday with a performance at Vancouver’s Rogers Arena. It would be a shame if he went back into semi-retirement, having treated fans to an incredible showcase of skill and showmanship.

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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