By Brian Ives
Last night, Keith Urban played the last date on his U.S. tour promoting Ripcord at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The show was an extravaganza of great songs, face-melting guitar playing, guest vocalists and, quite possibly, Urban’s first foray into tattoo art.
Urban spanned his career from 1999 through Ripcord, and showed why he is such an enduring talent; it’s worth noting that he’s close to 50 but still scoring hits on country radio. At last night’s show, his latest singles, “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color” were received as warmly as his earlier hits. That’s notable: not many artists – in any genre – are still scoring bona fide hit for nearly two decades.
Of course, Urban doesn’t quite act his age: even at the end of a months-long tour, he still takes the stage — and attacks his guitar — with youthful enthusiasm and abandon. He played electric guitar for most of the night (strapping on the banjo for two songs, acoustic guitar for a couple, and a bass guitar for “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16”), and he played burning solos throughout the night. Many singer-songwriters, in any genre, use the guitar as sort of a prop. Urban is a six-stringer of the highest caliber.
One reason that Urban fits in so well to the current country landscape is his sense of musical experimentation; one of his band members (Nathan Barlow) played a device called a “Phantom” which triggers samples and loops (read more about it here); this gives the band a very modern sound and allows him to reproduce much of the very experimental Ripcord album.
On the other hand, he’s also able to strip things down to their bare essentials: at one point in the show he plays the B-stage on the other side of the arena, in a power trio-format, he could easily do that all night long. During his B-stage set, he noted “This guitar is way too heavy,” and gave it away to a lucky lady in the audience.
Towards the end of the show, he stripped things down even more, playing two songs, solo acoustic: “Stupid Boy,” and “Making Memories of Us,” the latter of which he dedicated to his wife, Nicole Kidman.
Urban had guests on stage, both real and virtual, famous and non-. Performing his Miranda Lambert collaboration “We Were Us,” he invited opening act Maren Morris to join him; however, when he performed his new Carrie Underwood collaboration, “The Fighter,” he duetted with a video version Carrie (presumably they’ll perform it together when they tour Australia together in December). Eldredge joined him for “Somebody Like You.”
He also invited a young fan to the stage, and she brought two of her friends and their mother. Urban chatted them up on the microphone and agreed to write his initials on the girl’s shoulder; she claimed she’d get a tattoo of it the following day.
Throughout the concert, Urban showed why he’s been such an enduring talent: a combination of arena anthems (some written by him, some by other writers; like most smart country artists, Urban knows that the best song wins, regardless of author), insane guitar skills and uncommon charisma and charm.
Brett Eldredge played before Urban, and he’s another charmer: while he didn’t give away a guitar, he did give out roses, Al Green-style. His set was highlighted by two of his biggest songs, “Drunk on Your Love” and “Lose My Mind.” Eldredge seems to be quickly moving to the so-called “next level,” thanks to his smooth voice and his magnetic charisma. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him headlining arenas a year from now.
The opening act was Maren Morris, one of the big breakout talents of the year, in any genre (that said, she’s been releasing albums for over a decade). “My Church” brought her to country music’s attention and rightfully so. All the songs from her latest album, Hero, held up well live. And Morris is a great performer, with a rich singing voice, who is likely to be around for a long time. Perhaps in twenty years, it will be her turn to take an up-and-coming singers out on tour.