|Photos by Dave Rosales|
Keith Urban is a peculiar superstar. Take away the rugged good looks, and you'd still be left with a talented guitarist who, Tuesday night, gave every impression he'd be just as content jamming in the studio as headlining the rodeo before almost 60,000 adoring, possibly hyperventilating fans.
In fact, Urban began playing guitar at age six, and made a decent living in Nashville as a session hand for the likes of Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks before anyone ever had the brilliant idea to stick him in front of a camera. According to his allmusic.com bio, one of Urban's principal influences is Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler, and it showed both in his own deft fretwork and the effortless interaction between the front man and his band.
Only the banjo player looked younger than Urban, no spring chicken himself at 42, and the grizzled bunch of veterans stayed well within the pocket of contemporary country - read: classic rock played in whatever key it is that lends just a hint of twang - but their chops alone elevated frothier fare like opener "Kiss a Girl" and Journey-like ballads such as "Stupid Boy" to something beyond assembly-line Nashville radio drivel.
Showing off his "Waylon Telecaster" (making its live debut), Urban prefaced "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me" with a verse of Waylon Jennings' "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way." Although his voice was a little thin to stand up to Waylon's hefty baritone, it was a nice gesture, and if the song's gritty roots-rock wasn't quite up to the explosive level of, say, prime Blasters, it had more than a trace of Joe Ely - who, coincidentally(?), once covered "Hank" with Uncle Tupelo.
As a front man, Urban was a little harder to read. He wasn't shy about flashing a roguish grin as wide as the Australian Outback, and said all the right things about being happy to be there, but behind the microphone he almost came across as distracted - like he couldn't wait for the verse or chorus to be over so he could step away and start throwing down with the band again.
Even when he hopped offstage for a "Tim McGraw Victory Lap" during "You'll Look Good In My Shirt," he brought his guitar with him and kept strumming until he reached the "Chute Club" seats (the ones on the field), when he began leading a parade of enthusiastic female Spring Breakers around the arena, leaving them behind to climb through one of the rodeo chutes and sing a few bars from the stands. The song had pretty much gone off the rails at that point, but it was fun to watch.
Urban's charisma and musical talent were enough to carry him past lyrics that weren't much to write home about at all. They weren't as borderline intelligence-insulting to people whose life's ambition goes beyond marinating their brain in Bacardi or bringing the house down at their neighborhood dive's karaoke night
, but they were mostly run-of-the-mill plastic poetry about being sad a summer romance has ended, moonlight canoodling and not taking life for granted.