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Corey Hart completes his comeback at the Bell Centre


No, this is not a rerun you’re reading. Back in 2014, Montreal-born hitmaker and heartthrob Corey Hart bid adieu to his music career with a supposed final four-hour shindig at the Bell Centre. Fast forward to Saturday night at the Bell Centre, and there was Hart, as youthful as ever and with nary a mention of the emotional sendoff five years earlier. He’s back, touring cross-country for the first time in 32 years.

Hey, if Jay Z, LCD Soundsystem and Mario Lemieux can un-retire, then why not Hart? Besides, how else could he bask in a renewed appreciation for his work, including a recent Canadian Music Hall of Fame induction, a National Music Centre exhibit and now a packed hometown arena gig 35 years after opening for Culture Club at the Forum? It’s not something he could’ve done from the comfort of the Bahamas, where he and wife Julie Masse exiled themselves two decades ago to in order to raise their children without the distractions of the music biz.

The family-over-business mindset of Hart and Masse, who provided backing vocals on the night, was present throughout, whether in their frequent embraces, a video of Hart encouraging his son to follow his dreams, or a cover of the Beatles’ Let It Be, dedicated to his brother-in-law, who lost a son to suicide three years ago. Not unlike country megastar Garth Brooks, Hart walked away from the music business to be a family man, but with his kids a little older, Hart and Masse appear primed for a partial comeback.

What separated Saturday night’s Never Surrender 2019 tour comeback special from the four-hour swan song of 2014 was, first and foremost, the emotional heft. Hart wears his you-know-what on his sleeve, and while tears of appreciation flowed at both shows, the 2014 finale found Hart unloading everything he ever wanted to say musically before the lights went out. It was a longer show, with deeper cuts (such as the aged cold war-themed Komrade Kiev and Eurasian Eyes, omitted this time around) and awkward covers with extended back stories.

The comparatively compact setlist for the Never Surrender tour kept to his biggest hits, as well as overly congenial covers of Coldplay and Robert Palmer’s reinterpretation of Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor). Even the tunes from his latest EP, Dreaming Time Again, had an easygoing lightness to them that seemed specifically made for a repeatable live show. The title track, which opened the night, offered a soaring saxophone reminiscent of the E Street Band. Ottawa-born saxophonist Alison Young, who also provided backing vocals, was one of three secret weapons on stage. Toronto’s Alana Bridgewater, a backing vocalist who dueted with Hart on In Your Soul and Spot You in a Coalmine, was another.

The third was Masse, of course, who was as much a star as her husband among the room’s primarily francophone audience (confirmed when Hart did a linguistic roll call). They performed Là-bas together, and Hart dedicated Tonight, from his latest EP, to her.

A night in their native Montreal allowed them to equally acknowledge their anglo and franco audiences. In one perfectly franglais segment, Hart stumbled on his passé composé, namedropped CKGM and CHOM while holding his childhood radio, and sang a modified version of She Got the Radio from 1983’s First Offense (sic), combined with The Police’s Message in a Bottle. He kept a promise to Quebec media personality Mélanie Maynard by inviting her onstage for a performance of Jenny Fey, also from First Offense. His cover of Edith Piaf’s L’Hymne à l’amour alongside La Voix winner Geneviève Jodoin was another crowd pleaser sure to confound anglos in the audience.

He saved his two biggest hits, Sunglasses at Night and Never Surrender, for the encore, and it’s a testament to his hard-earned legacy that the crowd wasn’t restlessly waiting for them. Whatever reservations Hart may have ever had hitching his wagon to the former song are long gone, as he stretched it out live with a padded intro and extended guitar outro, with all his bandmates donning the appropriate headwear. The internet may have killed the video star, but Hart’s famed music videos figured prominently on the stage’s big screen.

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Re-watching his videos were a reminder of how Hart’s career path could’ve gone two ways. Last September, the Lost 80’s Live tour rolled into Laval’s Place Bell, with a number of one- or two-hit wonders from the decade playing one after the other. On the other end of the spectrum, Late Late Show host James Corden admitted he once tried to coax another Canadian star, Bryan Adams, to appear on an 80s version of his hit Carpool Karaoke segment, only to get swiftly rejected (presumably because Adams doesn’t see himself solely as an 80s wonder). Hart could’ve found himself lumped into the former, playing his signature hit again and again to adoring audiences, but by stepping away from the rigorous touring circuit, Hart’s oeuvre as a whole was given a chance to breathe. While he may have walked away from the business 20 years ago and again in 2014, it’s clear in 2019 that Hart is comfortable enough in his own skin to restart his music career, without surrendering to the hit that made him.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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