CHICAGO -- With all this talk of Garth Brooks making a comeback, one thing was not lost on him. The fans were making one, too.
Photo Credit: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images
"You came back. You. Came. Back," Brooks yelled to the sold-out crowd at his first show of his comeback tour at Chicago's Allstate Arena on Thursday night (Sept. 4). "I've been waiting a long time for this. Finally, there's nothing between you and us."
And so it was for two solid hours. The fans applauded him, he applauded them. They cried, he cried. He reached his hands down, they reached their hands up.
Brooks took the stage at 8:30 p.m. in Wrangler jeans, a gray plaid shirt, black cowboy hat and boots with his seven-man band backing him like they'd never stopped. He opened with "Man Against Machine," a new song from his upcoming album.
Then he tore through the classics -- hit after hit -- and ran around the oval-shaped stage like a man half his age. Adrenaline will do that to a guy.
Brooks seemed to be taking the energy from the more than 17,000 fans there and giving it right back to them in a steady stream of what he referred to as his cowboy songs -- "Rodeo," "Papa Loved Mama," "Beaches of Cheyenne," "Two of a Kind (Workin' on a Full House)," "Ain't Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)," "Fever," "Friends in Low Places" and "Callin' Baton Rouge."
And the crowd sang along. Not just because they couldn't help themselves but because Brooks had asked them so humbly.
"We were here 318 years ago. So, I'm 107 years old," he explained, adding that he might need everyone's help if they knew the words.
(Brooks' last show in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, at the very same arena, was 17 years ago. So a little less that 318 years.)
It wasn't all big, loud, honky-tonkin' country singalongs, though. There were enough quiet moments in the show to remind fans of the kind of music that tells stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. Songs that do more than just paint a picture, such as "Unanswered Prayers," "That Summer," "The River" "More Than a Memory," "The Thunder Rolls, "People Loving People" and then, toward the end of the night, "The Dance," which he called "my very favorite Garth Brooks song that we do."
Brooks still seems to have the same enthusiasm for the song that he did when he first heard songwriter Tony Arata playing it at the Bluebird Café in Nashville.
About halfway into his ambitious opening-night set, Brooks brought his wife Trisha Yearwood out to join him on their duet, "In Another's Eyes."
Once he left her alone with the crowd, Yearwood admitted how nervous she was. But not as nervous as she'd been in 1991 when she was opening a show for Brooks.
On that tour, she said, "I was scared of the crowd, scared of the stage and scared of Garth Brooks."
Yearwood played her new single "PrizeFighter," along with the hits that won her the hearts of country fans everywhere during the '90s -- "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)," "Wrong Side of Memphis," "How Do I Live" and "She's in Love With the Boy."
When Brooks came back to the stage, he took ample time to introduce his band. Most of the seven musicians and three background vocalists have all been with Brooks for more than 20 years with the exception of Brooks' fiddler Jimmy Mattingly. He's the new guy. He's only been in the band for 19 years.
Even after two hours of songs, though, Brooks hadn't even come close to playing all of his big hits. There was no "Shameless," no "American Honky-Tonk Bar Association," no "Longneck Bottle" and no "Standing Outside the Fire." When you've been making country music for 25 years, that happens.
But for his 24th song of the night, Brooks again brought his wife out, found her a mic, removed his cowboy hat like a proper gentleman and asked her to sing him his favorite Trisha Yearwood song, "Walkaway Joe." The band disappeared for the final song of the night, but Brooks did just fine backing her on guitar.
"I could not ask for a better start than this," Brooks said.
View photos from the Garth Brooks concert.