Keith Urban performs again Friday night at Gwinnett Arena. Tickets are still available for $25-$55. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., opener Jake Owen takes the stage around 7:30 p.m. Info: www.ticketmaster.com.
So you don’t like “new” country, huh?
Then you likely haven’t witnessed Keith Urban live, because he’ll make you a believer.
Urban is about as old-school country as female cohorts Taylor Swift and Faith Hill, who deal with far more grief whenever that inevitable argument arises.
But who cares about the label when the product is delivered so well?
Urban is an impressive package – a sizzling musician, steady vocalist and a prototype for your basic hunk (tight jeans, tight black shirt, floppy hair and a killer smile).
But while his physical attributes – coupled with a genuine nice-guy attitude – are window dressing that might help sell a few more albums, Urban’s shelf life never would have extended to a dozen number one singles and a half-dozen mega-selling albums since his 1999 breakthrough if he were merely a pretty face with biceps.
Well, actually, in this Kardashian-infatuated world, he probably would still be a star.
But Urban is, first and foremost, a top-notch musician who happens to radiate star quality.
At Thursday’s near-sellout at Gwinnett Arena (he plays there again Friday), Urban and his airtight four-piece band plowed through more than two hours of soaring country-tinged rockers and pensive ballads.
From the opening notes of “Put You in a Song,” this crowd was primed to sing along, and Urban’s exhilarating live setup only nudged their adrenaline higher.
The expansive stage featured a large, circular video screen broadcasting Urban’s stubble to the highest seats while above, strings of lights glided along roller coaster-like tracks.
The frenetic lighting perfectly complemented Urban’s furious soloing on “Days Go By” and “Stupid Boy,” one of his many songs that demonstrate manliness and introspection can co-exist quite well.
Frequently swapping his black and white Fender for an acoustic guitar, Urban repeatedly proved a nimble guitarist in the vein of Joe Perry or Richie Sambora. And while he doesn’t possess the most flexible pipes, he makes up for any vocal shortcomings with a ton of passion.
Urban isn’t the type of artist to phone in a performance. He engages with his fans by telling them to leave their “cares and worries in a whole other dimension” during the show, but also by taking the time to read handmade signs, inviting a couple onstage to snap a photo and plucking a trio of fans from the audience to share the mic during a rollicking version of “Kiss a Girl.”
They’re the type of joyful, unfiltered moments that should be part of every live experience.
He’s also talked a lot about getting physically close to the audience on this tour, and between a series of ramps that allowed him to perform a couple of songs on each end of the stage and a small platform halfway into the floor seats, he stayed true to his promise.
After taking an acoustic stroll through Paul McCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” which segued into his own tender, “Making Memories of Us,” accented by a lovely pedal steel guitar, Urban bopped into the crowd for “I’m In” and “Jeans On.”
Sweat flew with every toss of Urban’s damp locks, but the fans closest to him were more than happy to act as a landing strip and clamored even closer when he leaned into “You’ll Think of Me,” still one of the best creations in his ever-expanding archives.
Though many of Urban’s songs share the same anthemic blueprint, save for a banjo touch on “You Gonna Fly” or some mandolin on “Days Go By,” they never sound rote, thanks to his innate sense of melody.
So yes, Urban’s music might instigate another round of “is he or isn’t he country,” but whatever you want to call it, make sure to give the guy credit. He is a rock star in the truest sense.
Check out the AJC’s recent interview with Keith: http://www.accessatlanta.com/atlanta-music/keith-urban-gets-close-1058955.html
Follow me on Twitter @ajclifestyle