Monday, September 8, 2014

Keith Urban concert review: Irvine, Calif.

photo by Drew A. Kelley
My review originally ran at
On Friday night, there was doubt a country concert was taking place at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. A cowboy hat booth in the concourse area was one indication. A few feet away, another came from the brightly lit table selling Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine drinks.

Headliner Keith Urban was back in Southern California, nearing the home stretch of the tour for 2013’s Fuse that began that summer. The Aussie superstar is up for four CMA awards, scheduled to be handed out and televised Nov. 11 on ABC. Next January, he returns as judge for Season 14 of “American Idol.”

Selections from the latest album comprised a third of the totally invigorating two hour, 15-minute show; many of them veered into pop/rock realm. Kicking the things off with the slinky country rocker “Love’s Poster Child,” Urban and his tight band sizzled from the get-go, never losing momentum the entire evening.

The packed venue featured so many fans sporting homemade signs, you’d think it some “Idol” taping or a Springsteen concert (The Boss is known to take requests). Stevie Madison, a local contest winner from Orange County, was invited onstage to duet with Urban for the feisty  hit Miranda Lambert duet “We Were Us.” Madison’s vocal tone and stage presence were impressive and they both meshed well together during the rapid fire chorus.

Among the genre’s sharpest modern guitarists, Urban’s fast fingered fretwork never gets tiresome – even on solos that last more than a minute. He was very attentive and magnanimous toward O.C. enthusiasts, playing to both sides of the stage, taking time to sign autographs and respond to their signs. A Corona woman scrawled that the concert was a bucket list wish fulfilled, so she and her husband were invited onstage for a selfie with Urban.

And the performance? High energy most of the way with plenty of catalog hits dating back to 2002’s “Golden Road.” Standouts included the high flying harmonies of “Sweet Thing,” ebullient “Long Hot Summer” and “Even the Stars Fall For You,” swampy, blues-tinged “Good Thing,” a playful “Kiss a Girl,” the ethereal programming of “Cop Car” and enthusiastic main set closer “Put You in a Song” (plus some call and response action).    

Peering up toward the lawn section, Urban said it looked like the Mile High Club and probably was.” Later, he’d venture closer to those people during the short B-stage set featuring a stomping “Days Go By” and “You Look Good in My Shirt.”
Unlike other headliners who never collaborate with their opening acts onstage, Urban always makes a point to do so. Here, Jerrod Niemann and Brett Eldredge joined him for a fun cover of Tim McGraw's No. 1 single from 1999, "Something Like That."

All told, it was another winsome gig from Urban.

photo by Drew A. Kelley
Right before Urban was Jerrod Niemann. Having penned songs recorded by Garth Brooks and Jamey Johnson, plus a country chart-topping album (Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury) and single (“Lover Lover”) in 2010, his music ranges from humorous Bro-country to a more easygoing style.

Performing in front of a saloon sign named after fourth major label album High Noon, the singer/guitarist’s uneven 40-minute Verizon Amphitheater set went over well, but was marred by a poor sound mix.

The six-piece backing group included a percussionist, but often couldn’t be heard over the din (the acoustic-based R&B of “Lover Lover” sadly fell victim to the problem). Niemann began with a spirited “We Know How to Rock” and his relaxed ode to bartenders “One More Drinking Song” had a distinct Jimmy Buffet vibe.

An extended cover of “Pride and Joy” was a total mess, including sax and trumpet flourishes, a bit of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman and some musician solos. Worse yet, the song’s source - late, great Texas blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn - wasn’t even mentioned. Later, plaintive ballad “What Do You Want” (about a “booty call”) got a good crowd response, as did “Buzz Back Girl,” the hip-hop hangover song co-written by Lee Brice.

“This’ll change your lives for the worse,” said Niemann, before the novelty country/rap hybrid “Donkey.” No kidding. His banjo player wore a donkey mask for the fast number. More rapid-fire wordplay came via top 10 hit “Drink to That All Night,” which was released with a Pitbull remix. Fans sang along loudly to the “take your cup/fill it up/you can’t raise it high enough” refrain.  

photo by Drew A. Kelley
Brett Eldredge emerged in 2010 with the minor country hit “Raymond” and landed co-writes on Trace Adkins and Jake Owen efforts.
His highly appealing first album Bring You Back came out last year. It debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Country chart. The singer served as a support act for Taylor Swift’s Red tour as well as others for Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert. Eldredge was also among the recently announced CMA nominees (for New Artist).  
In Irvine, the 28-year-old Illinois native aimed to please. No problem there: early arrivals – particularly young ladies around the pit section – instantly got all riled up. Before taking the stage, a bandmate hammered at a single drum located apart from the main kit. Then Eldredge opened his half hour set with a fun and frisky “I Can’t Behave.”

The breezy “On and On” and gold selling, top 10 country hit “Beat of the Music” were both very appealing live. Eldredge unveiled a mini bar hidden in the piano, took a drink and toasted the crowd. Then he did a verse of Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” (wish it was completed).
Simple sweeping ballad “One Mississippi” did an exemplary job at showcasing the artist’s soulful side, complete with sustained vocal note ending. Keeping things simple, Eldredge was seated on acoustic guitar for the thoughtful “Mean to Me.” Smooth infectious hit “Don’t Ya” capped the set off on a high point.

Keith Urban setlist:

Love’s Poster Child/Sweet Thing/Somewhere in My Car/Only You Can Love Me This Way/Long Hot Summer/Even the Stars Fall For You/Good Thing/We Were Us/Kiss a Girl/Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me/Stupid Boy/Come Back to Me/Little Bit of Everything/Something Like That/Days Go By/Without You/You Look Good in My Shirt/Cop Car/You Gonna Fly/Put You in a Song

Encore: Making Memories of Us/Tonight I Wanna Cry/Better Life/Raise ‘Em Up/Somebody Like You

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