Monday, October 5, 2009

Keith Urban - Escape Together World Tour [concert review]

* October 3rd, Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Saturday's show at the Air Canada Centre concluded Keith Urban's brief Canadian tour, and it was an upbeat, raucous evening that surely couldn't have disappointed any of the attendees. Energy and good vibes practically emanated from the main attraction, an impressive feat considering seven of the twenty songs in his setlist were slow numbers (and not just lovey-dovey ballads, either..."You'll Think Of Me" and "Til Summer Comes Around" fall squarely in the "downer" category).
Urban's latest album (Defying Gravity, click link for my review) was well-represented, with five songs being performed, including the show opener "Hit The Ground Runnin'". "Days Go By" followed, keeping the energy level elevated before reining things in with the slow building "Stupid Boy", with some impressive extended soloing from Urban at the song's climax. When I first got into Keith Urban's music several months ago it was his guitar skills that most surprised me. To non-fans, I think he comes across as a bit of a lightweight pretty boy, which is a mindset I was guilty of, too. After throwing myself headfirst into his catalog and discovering the depths of his musical ability and songwriting skills, I now know better. And really, why hold the guy's admittedly good looks against him? As a Bon Jovi fan, I know it's bugged me for years every time I heard a similar dig at Jon Bon Jovi. He makes great music (in my opinion...plenty would disagree), which is all that matters. Anyway, I digress...
By song number five ("You're My Better Half") Urban had worked his way to the back of the arena to the smaller satellite stage. An acoustic version of his monster hit "Once In A Lifetime" had bits of Stevie Nicks' "Edge Of Seventeen" thrown in, a nice touch. The balladry of "Making Memories Of Us" (dedicated to wife Nicole Kidman) and then "Only You Can Love Me This Way" followed. Urban returned to the main stage, once again much to the delight of the crowd he walked the length of the arena floor to get through, and into "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me".
The middle part of the show featured highlights like "Til Summer Comes Around", where Urban again demonstrated his considerable fretboard skills at the end of the moody ballad, as well as great renditions of Defying Gravity's strongest tracks, "Kiss A Girl" and "Sweet Thing". After "Raining On Sunday", Urban's sense of humour was on full display as he donned a headband and sweat bands and, with help from opening act Lady Antebellum vocalist Hillary Scott, signed several tennis balls and then smacked them out to the audience. Even the requisite band intros which followed weren't too dull, with three band members taking the main microphone for snippets of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (by guitarist Chris Rodriguez), "Ain't No Sunshine" (by bassist Jerry Flowers) and, most popularly, a little Canadian content with multi-instrumentalist Brian Nutter doing a chorus and verse from "Run To You" by Bryan Adams. The rest of the band, all of whom certainly deserve recognition for their excellent performances, is rounded out by mandolin and guitar player Brad Rice and drummer Chris McHugh. After the band introductions, members of Lady Antebellum joined Urban onstage for an acoustic version of The Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road". Not being familiar with the song, an Eagles fan, or a Lady Antebellum fan, it was the only weak moment of the entire show for me.
"You Look Good In My Shirt" and "Somebody Like You" provided a powerhouse one-two punch before the encores, with the former a real surprise, as I've never cared for the song. Urban strapped on a Telecaster that lit up, borrowing a showmanship trick from KISS' Ace Frehley, who started using a lit up Les Paul back in the 70's. He ventured back out into the crowd, this time setting up a brief residence (along with his microphone and its stand) a few steps up in the stairs of the lower bowl section. The crowd ate it up. For the encore, it was "Tonight I Wanna Cry" (with a brief intro using Gordon Lightfoot's "Sundown") and then the sunny optimism of "Better Life" to close the show. Urban introduced the final number with the words "Be good to yourself, believe in yourself. Everything that you need is right inside you”. That might smack of corniness when you're reading it, but in the context of the show and the fact Urban comes across as an extremely genuine person, you know he means it.
After the concert I came home and checked out some reviews from Urban's other Canadian shows and was somewhat disappointed to find his setlist barely changes from night to night. The Toronto show, for example, was the exact same running order as his Winnipeg show. Even much of the stage dialogue appears to be recycled from show to show (like yelling at the crowd when playing on the satellite stage, "Who's got the good seats now?!"). I've been going to live music events for enough years now that I know this is a common practice with most artists. Still, something about it with Keith Urban still killed my buzz a little. Then I gave it some further thought and actually gained even more respect for the show I had just seen. Despite the fact a lot of what he was telling us was probably repeated verbatim from his other concerts, it all still completely felt like it was from the heart, that he truly meant it (such as when he thanked so many people for coming out and paying money for a concert during such touch economic times).
Unfortunately, the seats my friend Marcia and I had weren't the best for taking in the visual enhancements created for the show. We were close to the stage (twenty rows off the floor), but too far to the side of it to appreciate the use of the five video screens, which changed positions from the main stage backdrop, to a 45 degree angle, to hanging horizontally over the band like a roof.
This was my first Keith Urban show and it definitely won't be my last. Urban is a performer who gives his all on stage and the fun and satisfaction he gets from doing it is clearly on display and has an infectious quality the audience seems to feed off of. I've seen well over a hundred shows in my life and I've never seen an artist hang around for as long as he did at its conclusion, shaking hands and signing items for the fans. If he could have played a couple more hours, I'm sure he happily would have.
* Lady Antebellum were adequate openers, but I'm certainly not rushing out to buy their album after seeing them. One thing that surprised me about their set was that they did two and a half cover songs: "Hurts So Good", "Boys Of Summer" and a little of "You Shook Me All Night Along" slipped into one of their own songs. Normally, you won't see an opening act given a short amount of playing time choose to do so many, but I guess they felt the familiarity of the songs would help their cause with the audience. Based on the fairly favourable reaction they received, it looks to have been a pretty good call.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆