CINCINNATI -- Sure, it helps to have memorable songs, an instantly recognizable voice and charisma to burn. But above all that, Keith Urban can play.
Photo Credit: Andrew Southam
And he proved it Sunday night (Oct. 10) at Cincinnati's US Bank Arena during the third stop of his CMT-sponsored Be Here '04 tour.
Though it sounds ridiculous to say so, few country stars are as focused on their music as Urban. Most of the time, the entertaining comes down to a few yells of "how y'all doin'" and some eye-popping video clips in the background. But Urban relies on rhythm, crowd energy and a band that enhances his performance, rather than simply accompanies it.
Backed by a new road band, Urban, by all appearances, seems rejuvenated. Part of that may come from finally releasing his new album, Be Here. He opened his show with its first single, "Days Go By," playing it alone on his guitar behind a see-through black curtain. After it fell, Urban took a leisurely stroll through his song catalog, adding a long, moody, melodic introduction to "Raining on Sunday" and using his guitar and microphone as percussion on "Homespun Love," which he played completely alone.
Fans who insist that artists perform their hits exactly like they sound on the radio might hate this approach, but for those who want to experience the unexpected, Urban is the guy for you. He indulges in crowd singalongs perhaps a little bit too much, turning over the microphone on nearly every song from his Golden Road album. Yet, even on album cuts like "You Look Good in My Shirt" or "Jeans On," the audience knew all the words.
By unofficial estimates, the crowd looked about 80 percent female but with far less teenage screaming than you'd hear at a Rascal Flatts concert. With only about a third of the arena open for seating, Urban's performance was also far less deafening than most live shows -- country or otherwise.
After losing himself in the emotion of "You'll Think of Me" -- one of the finest breakup songs in recent memory -- he stepped into the role of a rock star for "She's Gotta Be," then offered a slightly revised and improvised version of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'." (Rather than Elvis, the woman mentioned in the song is now crazy about Kenny Chesney.) Returning for an encore after "Somebody Like You," he played a sensitive song on piano, a familiar hit and a new tune that has true hit potential. In the final minutes, neon words of encouragement illuminated the set.
It wouldn't be outrageous to consider Urban to be country's next superstar, but instead, that's how opening act Katrina Elam was introduced. Such a declaration may be premature, but the 20-year-old Oklahoma native can certainly carry a tune, even when it involves yodeling. The driving beat of "No End in Sight" falls squarely into Lonestar-Martina McBride territory, which helps to explain why she's catching on at radio. Trading in one of her three guitarists for a fiddle or a Dobro might help her emerge from the pack a bit more, but for playing in an arena on her first tour, she did an admirable job.
For more tour dates, visit the tours page at CMT.com.
"Days Go By"
"You're My Better Half"
"Raining on Sunday"
"Where the Blacktop Ends"
"You Look Good in My Shirt"
"Making Memories of Us"
"You'll Think of Me"
"She's Gotta Be"
"Somebody Like You"
"Tonight I Want to Cry"
"Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me"
"These Are the Days"
"Woman and Man"
"I Want a Cowboy"
"Flowers by the Side of the Road"
"Drop Dead Gorgeous"
"No End in Sight"
"My Little Lady Who"