Monday, September 30, 2013

Keith Urban, Little Big Town concert review: Hollywood

My review originally appeared at
Photos by Armando Brown

Two of country music's leading lights put on powerful performances Friday night during their first appearances at the Hollywood Bowl.

Without introduction or lighting cues, Keith Urban casually strolled onstage to play an instrumental and was gradually joined by his band. Then his two-hour performance began with an energetic “Long Hot Summer” and infectious, extended “Sweet Thing,” complete with fiery fretwork, while “Cop Car,” among the more intriguing new tunes on his recent chart-topping album, Fuse, boasted soaring vocals.

The set list was evenly divided among the Aussie musician and American Idol judge's catalog. Highlights included sturdy country rockers “Even the Stars Fall 4 U,” “Good Thing” and “Kiss a Girl” (initial opening act Dustin Lynch, grinning ear to ear, assisted on that one). 

Second-billed Little Big Town added supple harmonies to “You Gonna Fly,” while the mid-tempo “Stupid Boy” featured a sizzling solo from the headliner and tender ballad “Without You” came dedicated to Urban's wife, Nicole Kidman.

Dashing to a B-stage halfway through the packed venue for an impressive version of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and his own sprightly “Days Go By,” Urban also gave a nod to the city with Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights.”

Like a game of “spot the reference,” he tossed in bits of Blake Shelton’s “Boys ’Round Here” and David Bowie’s “Fame,” and even yodeled (!) on his return trip to the main stage, before circling back to an epic “Better Life.” After that, “A Little Bit of Everything,” driven by drum machines and ukulele, was illuminated by a disco ball, provoking more fans to dance.

When one concertgoer’s handmade sign caught the singer’s eye, she and her husband, egged on by Urban, chatted for what seemed like an eternity about it. Additionally, the star spent considerable time reading off several other placards around the place. A constant focus on Urban’s band (having them take lead vocals during snippets of tracks from Adele, fun. and Bruno Mars) affected the pacing, but those were minor annoyances.

Come encore time, Urban played piano for the plaintive “Tonight I Wanna Cry” (a real treat) and ventured back into the crowd for the whimsical “You Look Good in My Shirt.”

Little Big Town’s excellent fifth album, Tornado, has been racking up well-deserved plaudits since its release a year ago. Those tunes and others from the Alabama quartet were a revelation in concert, especially their stellar harmonies.

After some Black Keys intro music, swirling red lights flashed and the singers appeared on a ramp behind the drums, huddled around a single valve mike. Their astounding 50-minute performance kicked off with a feisty “Little White Church” and possessed a Southern Sunday revival vibe.

A fun “On Fire Tonight” (very appropriate) was the first of seven “Tornado” selections. Guitarist Phillip Sweet’s soulful side was spotlighted during the smooth “Bring It on Home” and multi-instrumentalist Kimberly Schlapman’s honeyed pipes added more resonance to “Sober” live; the banjo-led “Pavement Ends” and upbeat “Front Porch Thing” were totally rousing.

Guitarist Jimi Westbrook and his wife Karen Fairchild took the lead during some captivating drama on “Your Side of the Bed” and eventually came together at center stage. Meanwhile, the group’s cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” was a perfect fit, and a smoldering, bluesy take on the Oak Ridge Boys’ “Elvira” brought to mind a mix of Leon Russell and the Civil Wars.

Later, Fairchild – her long, dark hair blown from behind for effect – showed more grit amid “Tornado.” Most of the audience stood for slinky smash hit “Pontoon” and Westbrook proved his vocal mettle during the swampy closer, “Boondocks.”

First up at the Bowl this evening was Dustin Lynch. The white-Stetson-wearing singer’s self-titled debut came out in 2012 and entered at No. 1 on Billboard’s country album chart. In Hollywood, he offered a satisfying half-hour set despite a muddled mix that tended to engulf his vocals. The raucous vibe of “Name on It” and double-entendre lyrics of recent Top 40 country hit “She Cranks My Tractor” were reminiscent of Jason Aldean.

Each song went down well with early arrivals, as did an upbeat cover of David Lee Murphy’s 1995 chart topper “Dust on the Bottle.” Lots of ladies happily danced around, and Lynch immediately segued into an odd snatch of Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body.” Yet, like early influences Garth Brooks and Clint Black, the Tennessee vocalist fared best at ballads like the contemplative “Hurricane” and appealing platinum single “Cowboys and Angels,” inspired by his grandparents.

Set list: Keith Urban at the Hollywood Bowl

Main set: Instrumental > Long Hot Summer > Sweet Thing > I Told You So > Cop Car > Stupid Boy > Even the Stars Fall 4 You > You Gonna Fly (with Little Big Town) > Without You > Good Thing > Kiss a Girl (with Dustin Lynch) / Won't Get Fooled Again (The Who cover) / Days Go By > Rumor Has It (Adele cover) / Once in a Lifetime / Hollywood Nights (Bob Seger cover) / Better Life / Boys 'Round Here (Blake Shelton cover) / Some Nights (snippet of fun. cover) / You'll Think of Me / Little Bit of Everything / Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me / Somebody Like You

Encore: But for the Grace of God (snippet) / Tonight I Wanna Cry / Locked Out of Heaven (snippet of Bruno Mars cover) / You Look Good in My Shirt

1 comment:

ida said...

I've never been a fan of either of those bands, but it sounds like they put on terrific shows.