CHICAGO -- Keith Urban fans just can't help it. They love the guy, even when he totally forgets the lyrics to one of his biggest hits, "Making Memories of Us." In fact, the slip-up turned out to be the most memorable part for many admirers at Thursday night's (Feb. 8) sold-out benefit concert here at the magnificent Chicago Theatre.
In the middle of the tune, Urban encouraged the audience to sing along on the second verse, which was nothing out of the ordinary because the crowd had been belting out pretty much every word of each song for more than an hour, whether or not Urban had thrust his microphone their way. But for some reason they got flustered, too, and couldn't remember the part about stealing "your attention like a bad outlaw."
"I've forgotten the damn words!" Urban announced with animated disbelief as the place immediately went crazy with an extended bout of raucous cheering and whooping it up. With a mischievous grin, he admitted, "Time for honesty. I was trying to get you to sing on the bit I forgot. Pathetic, isn't it?"
The capacity crowd of 3,600 would surely beg to differ. Urban's profile has risen significantly in the last few years, whether because of his marriage to Nicole Kidman, his headline-making stint in rehab or his ever-growing arsenal of hits. However, the fans in Chicago were gently reminded that moment that he's still as human as the rest of us.
And he's certainly generous. The concert raised $50,000 for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and Urban also donated all merchandise proceeds to the organization. The night was sponsored by Chicago radio station WUSN (US99). Because the charity concert was rescheduled following his unexpected entry to the Betty Ford Clinic in October for treatment of alcohol abuse, it is presumed that the occasional empty seat in Chicago had more to do with logistics than disinterest.
Robin Jones flew in from Boston earlier that day to catch her 14th Urban show and to commemorate her 50th birthday. She had secured a good seat, too, but not the up-close-and-personal one over the orchestra pit that was going on eBay for $2,000. Jill Wood, 42, and Sherry Keith, 27, each drove more than five hours to be at the concert. Wood lives in Carbondale, Ill., and has seen Urban more than 50 times. Sherry Keith, who is from Evansville, Ind., has attended somewhere between 30 and 40 shows.
Asked separately about their favorite part of the show, all three women promptly mentioned the endearing mistake during "Making Memories of Us," and then proceeded to gush about his dynamic stage presence and his power to connect with an audience -- traits that will continue to serve him later this spring when he takes an expanded concert production on the road for a world tour of major arenas.
Urban launched his 90-minute set with "Once in a Lifetime," then raced into "Days Go By." He took a moment to connect to the audience, waving at the balcony and declaring, "We made it, finally!"
Shortly after that, he remarked, "It's good to be in Chicago. I took a little, uh, vacation." His rehab came up in conversation later in the show, too, when he thanked his fans for always supporting him, specifically while he was undergoing treatment at the Betty Ford Center. He also recalled the night in November when he won a CMA Award for male vocalist but couldn't watch the show because there are no TVs inside. He said he was already in bed when a guy came into his room with a flashlight and handed him a phone. ("There are no phones in prison," Urban joked. "I had already made my one call.") It was his counselor calling to congratulate him. Urban woke up his roommate, who was only mildly impressed, and then everybody went back to bed.
While the theater provided a welcome intimacy, the performance proved to be much more festive. Throughout the night, Urban switched between solo acoustic performances and playing with a full band, augmented by two new members. (If Kidman was there, nobody said anything about it.) He knocked out "Raining on Sunday," "Stupid Boy" and "You'll Think of Me" in the first half of the set, saving joyous tunes like "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me," "Better Life" and "Somebody Like You" for a rousing send-off.
Dressed simply in a black V-neck T-shirt and dark blue jeans, he capped the night with "But for the Grace of God," and by then, the aisles were crowded with fans hoisting digital cameras, jockeying for the right angle and hanging on every word. Take away those upbeat, empowering lyrics, and the throbbing rhythms and boisterous melodies would still be enough to inject any audience with an energy boost.
Before the show, the passport-stamping line for Monkeyville members -- a club for his most ambitious fans -- was longer than the drink line and the coat check line, and that's saying something in a Chicago winter. Even in the freezing weather, as people waited for the front doors to open, nobody seemed to be grumbling.
Local resident Kate Hazel celebrated her 23rd birthday at the show. She and Catherine Happ, 22, wore matching "I (Heart) Keith" shirts for their first Urban experience (with a "23" on the back of each one.) Both summing up the concert as "awesome," they were a somewhat overwhelmed that Urban's first full-length concert of the year took place in Chicago.
"It was a great comeback," Happ said. "I felt like everybody was cheering him on."