KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During the second of nine sold-out concerts here, Garth Brooks declared, “I came here to sing, but I came to be sang to, too!” And as we all know, he usually gets what he wants.
Brooks’ concert on Tuesday night (Nov. 6) at the brand new Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City differed a little bit from the night before. He told the crowd he didn’t want to give everything away that first night. About halfway through the set, beaming like a kid at Christmas, he said, “I’ve been waiting a long time to do this,” and launched into “In Another’s Eyes” — with Trisha Yearwood rising through the stage to sing her part. They bantered and teased each other like comfortable married couples do. (Him: “I want to hear you say I’m right, just once.” Her: “You’re right, just once.”) Despite the huge surroundings, he even accompanied her on a solo acoustic rendition of her hit, “Walkaway Joe,” and the crowd hushed itself accordingly to hear it.
All this was right in the middle of Brooks’ much-anticipated concert comeback. Wait a minute. Isn’t Brooks supposed to be a control freak? Doesn’t he dangle from the ceiling on a rope? Oh, sorry, I’m thinking of the old Garth Brooks. This is the new Garth Brooks. With all these album reissues, I get confused. Anyway, I think I like this new Garth Brooks an awful lot. Believe me, I was skeptical.
First of all, after being gone for nearly a decade, how could he really sell out nine shows? Well, for one thing, tickets are $25, and nearly everybody can come up with that kind of money. But when it came to logistics and the actual number of available seats, I figured the stage would be huge, and the back section of the arena would be curtained off — and I was wrong on both counts. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen such a small stage in a big venue, and people were everywhere. The venue is shaped like a tire (but with disco ball exterior), and you had to tread lightly just to navigate the cup-clutching crowd.
Brooks and his band members graciously made sure to turn around once in a while to sing for the folks directly behind the stage, even the ones in the rafters. Everybody was constantly moving around the perimeter of the stage, even the background singers, who are magnificent — songwriter Karyn Rochelle and two of Wynonna’s former backup singers, Vicki Hampton and Robert Bailey. Brooks enlisted most of his old band to come to Kansas City, too, and their enthusiasm made up for any sort of rusty musicianship. If you didn’t feel some sort of personal connection with Brooks and his team at the end of the night, then you probably weren’t even willing to try.
Although he sang pretty much every song he’s famous for, I wish he’d spent more time singing. Instead, he’d stand there and soak up the applause, and then the band would wave their arms or drumsticks or fiddle bow, and people would clap and scream some more. He must have done this a dozen times over the course of two hours. I think audiences are generally conditioned to applaud until they hear the notes for the next songs, so I have to contribute part of the long ovations to that. Or maybe they really, really loved “Papa Loved Mama.”
But, really, that’s the only negative thing I can say about the concert. Even so, if you’re the best-selling solo artist of all time, and you haven’t toured in a decade, a little self-indulgence is forgivable. Just think of how many hits the guy has had — “The Dance,” “The River,” “Unanswered Prayers” (still a great song), “Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls,” “We Shall Be Free,” “Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old,” “Shameless” and now his latest Top 10 single, “More Than a Memory.” He’s selling a commemorative edition of his latest repackaging, The Ultimate Hits, at his concerts, with $10 going toward breast cancer research. I don’t remember the last time I listened to a Brooks album, let alone bought one. I heard those songs so many times in the 1990s, I thought I’d had my lifetime fill. But guess who stopped by the merchandise trailer on the way out?
Yearwood is opening this series of concerts, although she spent that morning doing interviews in Nashville. She always impresses me that she can sing anywhere and seem totally comfortable doing it, whether it’s the county fair or as part of the hottest concert ticket in the U.S. right now (well, at least behind Hannah Montana). She also has a stash of big hits like “How Do I Live” and “She’s in Love With the Boy,” but thankfully, she hasn’t been gone 10 years. Hopefully, they’ll take this show on the road, because they definitely have friends in a lot more places.