Keith Urban: Live Last Night
By Dave McKenna
You'd have to go back to Glen Campbell to find a pop-country star whose musical skills are buried any deeper in hit records than Keith Urban's.
The guy can really, really play a guitar. But while Vince Gill and Brad Paisley, Urban's peers on country's guitar-hero scene, throw a few licks into even the most mindless single to remind you of their genius, Urban usually keeps his fingers to himself in the studio.
In a live setting, however, Urban turns his inner shredder loose. At the Verizon Center on Thursday, he wore more vintage guitars onstage than Reba does gaudy outfits, and worried the strings on all of 'em.
(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)
The moody, Dire Straits-ish "Til Summer Comes Around," from his most recent CD, "Defying Gravity," is too long to ever be a country radio hit, but it gave Urban plenty of time to wail. Same with "Stupid Boy," one of the few pages in Urban's songbook where his material lives up to his talents. Urban spent the mostly instrumental second half of the song bending beautiful notes on his 1957 Les Paul Jr. (the single cutaway model, as any of Keith's many gearhead fans could tell you), which he held high and pointed away from his face, as a frat boy would position a beer bong.
Urban knows that most of the folks who nearly packed the arena care less about his guitarsenal than they do his sweet and low-aiming singles, and he and his rockcentric band gave their all to renditions of "Days Go By," "Kiss a Girl," and "Where the Blacktop Ends," songs that sound pretty much the same as each other, whether in concert or on the radio. He slowed things down to croon the pile of clichés ("roll with the punches," "always on my mind," "no one that comes close to you," etc.) that make up his recent hit ballad, "Only You Can Love Me This Way."
Only a few years ago, Urban made all the tabloids with substance-abuse problems that had him looking like a bumpkin Kurt Cobain, a guy who had all the tools and drive to get famous but lacked the emotional makeup to deal with stardom. Urban seems to have shed his demons, however. His only angry moments came out during "You'll Think of Me," a ballad that has him spewing to an unnamed ex: "Take your records/Take your freedom/Take your memories/I don't need 'em!" (Not even the records, Keith? That must have been some breakup!)
For most of the night Urban looked like he was having tons of fun, and he worked hard to make sure the mostly female audience that paid to see him got their jollies, too.
He ran into the grandstands to lead a singalong of "You Look Good in My Shirt." And before "Once in a Lifetime," he moved to a mini-stage that had been set up at the back of the arena and yelled in his charming Australian accent to the folks up front, "Who's got the good seats now?"
Technical difficulties crushed the opening set by Sugarland, the hit-making duo of Jennifer Nettles and Christian Bush. Bush fills the same role as John Oates or the oldest Jonas, just kind of along for the ride. Everything about Nettles is big. Every step, every arm gesture, even her Southern accent during the faux-naughty smash, "It Happens," was exaggerated. ("Same" is a three-syllable word for Nettles.) Whatever momentum Nettles built up through her adrenalin surplus and odd covers (REM's "Nightswimming") was derailed when the house P.A. started going out often and for long stretches. As the crowd murmured and pointed at the speakers trying to get the band's attention and generally lost interest in the performance, Nettles and Bush ran around the stage smiling, oblivious to the sonic meltdown. It happens.
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