Monday, September 19, 2016

Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood concert review: Anaheim, Calif. (Night 1)

photo: Bill Alkofer/OC Register
During the 1990s, Garth Brooks gained a reputation as the consummate country music showman. His concerts were often talked about in reverent terms – especially ones like 1997’s Live from Central Park, the HBO broadcast where the singer played for nearly a million New York City fans.

Back then, I mostly focused on alternative rock and paid little attention to the phenomenon. Last Friday night at Honda Center, my first Garth live experience was astounding. Even after a lengthy hiatus from regular recording and touring in the 2000s to raise his three daughters, Brooks, 54, still has more drive and passion than many country acts half his age. Crowd participation was taken to the next level here (quite a feat, considering past stirring singalongs at the venue by Springsteen and U2 enthusiasts).

The first of three sold out Anaheim gigs were part of an ongoing world tour that began in 2014. They marked 20 years since Brooks last brought a major live jaunt to O.C.

photo: George A. Paul
During a pre-show press conference with wife Trisha Yearwood, he talked about how the time away from the limelight was "the greatest gift"...I never missed a talent show or soccer practice. The second greatest gift is being able to do this again." Brooks said in 1996, the arena (then known as Arrowhead Pond) was among the largest he’d done in the area up to that point. "It's one of those places you can't wait to play."

Brooks fondly recalled doing the old Crazy Horse Steak House & Saloon in Santa Ana – alongside all the country music greats - early in his career. “There’s a lot of cowboy tradition out here. It’s a great (touring) market. People come educated in country music.” Yearwood concurred: “There’s a very passionate country market in California and that’s not the case everywhere. We always get a warm welcome here.”

On other fronts, Brooks has a multi-disc box set (including a new album) due in November exclusively through Target. A Christmas collection with Yearwood is also on tap. Additionally, there’s a new SiriusXM station devoted entirely to Brooks and he does a weekly Facebook Live update called Live From Studio G.

Before the Anaheim show started, fans could be heard raving about the reasonable prices for concert ticket and merchandise compared to other superstar acts. I spotted one gal with a memorable shirt that read 'you either love Garth Brooks or you're wrong.'

Brooks and his stellar 10-piece band emerged onstage in dramatic fashion to industrial clanking sounds and opened the concert with the title track of 2014’s “Man Against Machine.” Many of the musicians used ramps around the stage to play for everyone on each side. Half the set comprised country chart toppers.

The sublime backing vocal trio added a soulful sheen to “Rodeo.” Brooks constantly ran all around the stage, mixing it up with his fans and group throughout the evening. He often stood, arms spread and basked in fans’ adulation, seemingly humbled by the enthusiastic response.

An upbeat “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” quickly got the audience riled up. Some luxurious pedal steel sounds on ballad “The Beaches of Cheyenne” and “The River” were early standouts. The laid back Jimmy Buffett-styled “Two Pina Coladas” was pure fun as Brooks directed the singalong and people hoisted their drinks in approval.

For the rambunctious “Ain’t Going Down (Til the Sun Comes Up),” Brooks climbed atop the lighted sphere surrounding the drummer and shake it. He did “Unanswered Prayers,” a touching ballad about thankfulness, alone on acoustic guitar. The wistful “That Summer” was excellent and Brooks’ ominous sense of drama on “The Thunder Rolls” was practically worth the ticket price alone.

photo: George A. Paul
Then Yearwood, clad in a short black leather jacket emblazoned with ‘Loving You’ on back, appeared on their riveting hit duet “In Another’s Eyes.” They kissed at the end. She took over the stage for a superb, albeit too short, four song set.

Couples swayed along to “How Do I Live,” where she really proved her vocal prowess. Yearwood gave an empowering delivery on “Prizefighter”; the 2014 duet with Kelly Clarkson featured images of cancer survivors and supporters on the screens. A fan’s sign prompted a snippet of another song.

After sharing she’d attended the previous night’s Angels game and noshed on nachos, Yearwood did a spirited “She’s in Love with the Boy” (her first No. 1 in 1991) with a Kiss Cam and laughed at some of the results.

Once Brooks returned, the final stretch featured an excellent “Shameless,” the feisty hoedown “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” a wild take on his signature song “Friends in Low Places” and an extended “The Dance.” Come encore time, Brooks drew his attention to all the fans’ song request signs and did part or all of “The Change,” Bob Dylan's “To Make You Feel My Love” and “Learning to Live Again” on acoustic guitar. The band came back for another request, “Good Ride Cowboy,” the honky tonk tribute to Brooks' idol Chris LeDoux and inspirational “Standing Outside the Fire.”

All told, Brooks put on an electrifying show in Anaheim and lived up to expectations.

Promising newcomer Mitch Rossell did a solid opening set solo on acoustic guitar, highlighted by the title track of his new album “Raised by the Radio,” which Brooks co-produced. Tour backing vocalist Karyn Rochelle - whose songs have been recorded by Yearwood, Sara Evans, Kellie Pickler and others – also did an endearing set with her own band.

A version of my review originally appeared at

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