There was nary a big belt buckle, fringed boot or kerchief in sight. Instead, the long sold-out concert was full of fans from eight to 80-years-old, there to sing along to Keith Urban’s hard-working take on soft rock. Such is Urban’s popularity at present, boosted by a role last year on The Voice and American Idol‘s current season, it seemed his work was largely done before the curtains rose. The air crackled with love, sight unseen.
Fans planned to enjoy the show come hell or high water (except in Brisbane where wild weather postponed a show), yet Urban took little for granted.
For two-plus hours, with equal parts capability and charisma, he mixed one measure of schlocky ballad to three measures of up-tempo smash hit, indulging in zero navel-gazing, pushing all his energy outwards. Thrice he sprinted off stage to play crowd-pleasers on podiums set in a jungle of fans. Multiple times we were treated to a call-and-response double act where Urban hollered “Yeah-ah!” and we hollered “Yeah-ah!” right back.
From the opening number, ‘You Gonna Fly’, Urban and band blazed through a watertight setlist that, sadly, swamped the banjo’s delicate twang in enthusiastic riffing. A mini Idol-style event occurred, where Urban chose three fans to sing ‘Kiss a Girl’, speaking for everyone when he said: “This could be amazing or a complete bloody train wreck.” For the record, it was neither, just lots of silly fun.
On album it’s Urban’s platitude-packed choruses that appeal most but live it’s his guitar solos, which, unexpectedly, owe a lot to Slash. A cover of ‘Wonderwall’ was underserviced by special guest Joel Madden’s flat tones but when Jimmy Barnes loped out to join Urban in an acoustic version of ‘Flame Tree’, the arena overflowed with elation.
Urban’s performance was contested in textbook perfection only by his tan, the alluring fit of his Johnny Cash blacks and his gleaming teeth. The flipside? The textbook can teach the formula for soul but the real deal involves revealing something, anything, of your true self, as imperfect as it may be.