"I have a deep, deep love for country music. I've been playing it since I was 6," Keith Urban said yesterday (June 9) at a tour rehearsal in Nashville. So that means, in a way, he's been rehearsing for 37 years. That would explain why he already sounded so good.
Photo Credit: Naomi Heilmann
Even though he's such a natural at live performing, the rehearsal for his upcoming Get Closer tour, sponsored by AT&T and Samsung, was open to about 300 fans, contest winners, media and industry guests at Nashville's Municipal Auditorium.
"This is a funny-looking view," he said to greet the group before shedding some light on what was about to happen.
"We've never done anything like this before, so instead of being freaked out and nervous like I am, I'll explain what we're going to do," he said. "It's not gonna be song, song, song, song, song."
He stayed true to his word and talked his way through the hour-long practice session.
"We need you to sing along and act like a concert, for all intents and purposes. You OK with that?" he asked before opening the mini-show with an a cappella intro of "Put You in a Song." His band came in after the first verse and the elaborate lighting system came on. But the strobe lights, disco ball and rollercoaster-like tracks behind Urban didn't stand out half as much as the large circular screen he used to project images of himself and his music videos.
"That's the gist of it," he said after that first song. He went on to do "Only You Can Love Me This Way," "You Gonna Fly," "Long Hot Summer," an acoustic Urban-only "Making Memories of Us" and a dead-on cover of Little Big Town's "Boondocks." At one point, Urban admitted, "I'm still nervous as hell," although he never looked it. He was smiling, laughing, sweating and acting like the stage is his happy place. He left the main stage to head to a small stage in the back of the crowd, where he played "You'll Think of Me" and "Days Go By."
Back on the big stage, he did his current hit "Without You," which he mentioned was a favorite of Dierks Bentley's. As he always does, he shared the spotlight with his band, giving them each a chance to do bits and pieces of songs before Urban ended the practice show with "Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me" and "You Look Good in My Shirt."
Then came the questions. Urban let the media stick around to ask a few questions, and he answered them all graciously. As for some of the new production elements, he said, "We've got this big toy box, and we've gotta make sure we use it and it doesn't use us. The look of the stage started when I had the idea of a theme park. But not so literal because I'd like it to be more impressionistic." And now that the stage has easy-access ramps, he explained he loved the ease of getting down and back effortlessly. "Well, if you're a mountain goat," he laughed.
When the question of crafting the set list came up, Urban admitted he writes his by keeping in mind that most people have a short attention span. That's why he mixes ballads with up-tempos and singles with album tracks.
"No matter how good a band is, I can only take two or three songs and then I'm like, 'What else you got,'" he said of his own attention span.
Heading into the audience is something that never seems to get old to Urban.
"Sometimes it's really chaotic, but there's something about the adrenaline and electricity and the on-edge unpredictability about it that I really love," he said. "Part of the problem is everything is so thought out that there's not much spontaneity left. I can always feel when something's very predictable."
That led into a discussion of his nightly guitar giveaway which happens during his performance of "You Look Good in My Shirt." There is no real rhyme or reason to selecting the lucky fan.
"It's an instinct thing. It's just random. Sometimes it's a couple. We did it one night to a little boy who was fast asleep. He was probably about 5. I'm standing right next to him, and he's fast asleep," Urban laughed.
The concept came about when he did the stunt for the first time and then realized how hard it was going to be to make his way back to the stage holding a guitar.
"I thought, 'I should just leave the guitar,'" he explained. "I bought a cheap guitar in the town we were in, and it was such a liberating feeling I thought we should do it all the time."
There's one part of Urban's show that features a clip of Waylon Jennings doing his "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way." Asked about that, Urban explained what that song meant to him.
"The song is there because of the philosophy of the song," he said. "The song resonates so deep with me. The reason I love the song so much is because Waylon captured perfectly my journey into Nashville. And the reason I get to make records the way I do is because of what Waylon did. He wasn't trying to buck the system. He was trying to create a situation where he could stay true to his art. It wasn't about anti-authority or anti-anything. It was just about authenticity."
That was when he talked of his deep love of country music.
"I'm always curious about where can it go next. How can it evolve? Still have a sense of identity but remain relevant," he wondered. "That song is perfect for that."