Monday, May 18, 2009

A Great Review of the Chicago Show

This was written by someone who gets it.... It really can be all about the music and that's all we've ever asked for...

Keith Urban: Reaching For The Sky

by Anthony Kuzminski

Allstate Arena-Rosemont, IL - May 15, 2009

A third of the way into Keith Urban's recent Chicago stop, he glided off stage during a guitar solo at the end of an electrified version of "You're My Better Half" and made his way through the crowd to the soundboard. At the back of the arena, Urban stood on a platform and welcomed those in the cheap seats with an infectious smile and his charming Australian accent, "Who's got the best seats now?" He then strummed his guitar and launched into a stripped down version of his 2006 hit "Once In A Lifetime". The song featured only Urban's pining electric guitar and a bit of rhythm from drummer Chris McHugh, but it was an intimate moment often missing from arena shows that the audience relished. Keith Urban is one of the premier live performers on the road at this moment in time. In my humble opinion, he may be the best arena performer today. The crowd sung along to every word of the song encompassing the arena with a tender glow often only found in clubs. However, Keith Urban has a way to breaching barriers in his art providing everyone with not just an evening of entertainment but an illuminating experience that transcends beyond his music.

Opening with "Hit the Ground Running", Urban did just that as he and his six piece band (led by a four guitar front line attack) tore through a twenty-song set that stretched over two-hours. Dressed in jeans, a short-sleeve shirt and a stylish new haircut, Urban's appearance is much like his shows; no nonsense. That's not to say that Urban doesn't bring the necessary elements to bring his shows into the 21st Century. The songs were accentuated by sprawling stage that looks as if it is erected from the ground with sections that veered directly into the crowd. It provided an open atmosphere with no security gates making the mental distance between band and fan almost non-existent. Urban is a superstar, but he approaches his shows with a fearlessness rarely seen in concerts anymore as he tries to make the audience feel like an integral part of the show. The stage backdrop consisted of five high definition split screens which shifted throughout the evening (sometimes hovering over the band) and displayed everything from lush landscapes to a kaleidoscope of colors to childhood photo's of the band members. Urban's stages are continually inventive without being obstructive and always allowing his music to not just breathe but be the focal point of the show.

Fan favorites including the fist pumping "Days Go By", the alluring "Stupid Boy" and the southern blues of "Where The Blacktop Ends" hooked the crowd early with a heady rush of adrenaline. The material from Defying Gravity ranged from impressive ("Kiss the Girl" and "Sweet Thing") to monotonous ("Standing Right In Front of You"). During a mid-set three song section the show appeared to lose momentum, that is until "Til Summer Comes Around" where Urban unleashed a breathtaking guitar solo that reminds one of why Urban isn't your run-of-the-mill country or rock star. He's the rare musician whose lead guitar fireworks are equal to his front man charisma. He's more fluid than most performers half his age and yet never fails to nail his solos. Watching his fingers maneuver across those frets was like watching him write poetry. "If I Ever Could Love" is a stark revelation of commitment and love proved to be languid in concert. I had overlooked the song on the album and here in concert, it stands as the best of the new tracks, however, positioning it after the epic "Who Wouldn't Want To Be Me" meant that it was lost in the emotional thick of the action. It should be performed earlier in the set where it would stand out more. If there is one quibble I had from this tour is that the new material doesn't quite stand up to the deep cuts fro his last few records. On previous tours when he performed "Shine", "Faster Car" and "Used to the Pain", they stood side by side with his biggest hits and were indistinguishable to the uninitiated in concert. As the tour progresses, it would be nice to see Urban take some chances with this material; rearrange these songs and maneuver them into a more cohesive section of the show so there is no loss of momentum and give them the necessary bite they deserve.

The final section of the show featured one hit after another. Even the ill conceived positioning of the ballads didn't matter because of the emotion poured into the performances. The aching "Raining On Sunday" found the band joining Urban midway through (on the last tour this was an acoustic solo performance) while "Tonight I Wanna Cry" was reworked in a remarkable acoustic arrangement. The rest of the rockers infused the crowd with enough adrenaline to fuel the roars for the remainder of the show. "I Told You So", "You Look Good In My Shirt" and "Better Life" walloped the crowd into a frenzied state that lasted well after the house lights went on. Urban and his backing band flex their muscle on a wide variety of instruments and a vast array of musical instrumentation that matches the E Street Band in terms of defiance, dedication, substance and soul. They know Urban and his music like the back of their hand and they don't just accompany Urban, they elevate his music to new heights in concert. It is one thing to have a set of accomplished musicians backing you up, but what Urban has is a band who compliments his material in ways I am not sure if he even deemed possible.

Every night Keith Urban hits the stage with a fluidity that is rare to witness these days. Even on nights with static set lists, he finds a way to crawl beneath the surface, get under your skin and elevate your mind, body and soul. Some acts feel that by changing a set daily does this and others feel that by only performing their biggest hits will accomplish this. However, what is needed is a purpose and mission; both of which he has. His paramount songs are infused with unbridled enthusiasm that is impossible to deny. When one leaves the arena after a Keith Urban show they have a feeling of joy through the emotional, spiritual and physical release his concerts provide. For those two-plus hours on stage, anything seems possible and life's problems wash away. As the band shred through their set ending "Somebody Like You" Urban reminds us that when he connects with the pitch he doesn't just hit a homerun, but the ball soars to heights that reach far into the sky and out of the park.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com

21 comments:

Imahick said...

I read this review and it gave me goose bumps. This is the Keith Urban that I've seen in concert. I could care less who he's married to if he can focus on his music and give me 100% when I go to a show. That means I don't need him to pay tribute to NK and I don't need to see her at his shows.

He doesn't need NK to validate his talent.

notachance said...

Nice to see a review like this, they are far and few between.

This is how I would write abouta KU show (if I were a writer) and to any doubters out there, you are surely missing out on a very good thing.

maclen said...

It's too bad that a postive review of a live gig doesnt seem to be helping the orb's standing in the country industry...seems the orb is lagging far behind in noms at the CMT awards. ..

http://www.contactmusic.com/news.nsf/article/sugarland%20leads%20cmt%20nominations_1103862

SUGARLAND - SUGARLAND LEADS CMT NOMINATIONS...what with a paltry single...uh, I mean 1 and a half noms...I notice the orb isnt even mentioned for his 1 and a half noms in the articles coming out...but they do mention he will perform, at least! The orb recieved one nom for "Male Video of the year" (is it just me, or is the orb "contractually obligated" in some way to at least be nominated for...Male...video...or song of the year, etc... at every country award show?)...and that half nom backing paisley...who it seems recieved 4 noms along with swift who rank second only behind sugarland with 5 noms...(again, does the country music industry have some kind of insider "welfare program" wherein the far more successful artists like sugarland with 5 noms and swift with 4 noms are actually "opening" for modest one nommer...I mean one and a half nommer orb?) Well, at least the orb has american idol to try and support those lackluster cd sales! For it doesnt seem he'll get much of a, you know, popularity boost from awards recognition, does it.

cricket said...

That was a great show. No mention of the hag at all. I forgot she even exsisted. If he can keep this up I think he can regain some of the momentum he's lost thanks to the hook up with Granny. He was truly amazing Friday night.

stillhopefull said...

I think small steps are in order here. He didn't just fall out of the scene over night. I don't see how he can jump right back in. Maybe if he would come up with a comparable Golden Road. I am happy that just maybe he may be firguring out what he needs to do and is doing it. I say congrats on the great review. I think we all knew it was in him, maybe he just needed to find it again!

Berry Hill said...

I agree Imahick.
This review took me back.
It reminded me of who Keith Urban was before Nicole Kidman.
It gave me hope that Keith Urban can remember that too.

Tara said...

Most importantly this review is about him about what he can do. Its not about who he is married to nor about his personal life. Its one of the best things written about him in the last couple of years.

maclen said...

Ha! So this morning I checked over at the orb's youtube video mashup campaign just to check out the progress it was making...

http://www.youtube.com/user/kuyoullthinkofme

...a few days ago it was up to 38 submitted videos...well...D'OH!... it actually dropped to 36! Seems two submitters may have had second thoughts about being involved...or something...or perhaps they jumped ship and switched to taylor swift! Yeah, "switch to swift...surely many of the orb's past fans already did. Only so much gimmicks such as appearing on american idol...or even performing at the cmt's will do for you, especially given the fact that you got a seemingly token award nom (+ 1/2 a nom)...and your weak cd is selling poorly...but then a paltry one nom is just a indication of how the music in and of itself... is pretty weak and lacking of substance.

maclen said...

So, I was surfing the nets, checking out the political blogs, when I noticed this over at the Huffinton Post...

http://www.thrfeed.com/2009/05/idol-finale.html#more

'Idol' wins Tuesday with lowest-ever finale; 'Glee' preview OK...not very surprising, as I commented last week when Urban Myths posted that the orb was going to perform on Idol...that it was ironic that the orb would now decide to jump on the Idol bandwagon just when it's rating's were declining...just as the orb's own cd sales are declining.So yesterday's ratings were 23 mill...the lowest ever for a finale...i also read that tonight's ratings were about 24 mil...and yes, 24 mil is alot...but certainly not the 30+ mill that it once was. Probably will have to check out the youtube videos just to check out the whole scene...Ive read that carrie underwood was also performing on the show, as was my personal fav, carlos santana. Would not be surprised at all if underwood smoked the orb with her performance, just as she was smoking on the grammy's...while the orb lamely played second fiddle...and no doubt at all that santana surely blew wanna-be "guitar hero" orb off the stage with his performance, that's if he performed, that is...ah, just see that the orb actually played a duet with one of the finalists on the show? Boy, is he that hard up for attention? Is the dude he dueted with an aussie...a country singer? Orb, have some self respect...stand on the national stage on your own two feet! Can the finalist on the Idol stage for only the past 8 or 9 weeks or how ever long it's been really going to sell a few cds for you? Is it that important for you to have that little tidbit, another gimmick to sell your music? I imagine the orb's PR think tank are probably in hog heaven over the thought of internet stories of the orb standing on stage with the Idol winner! I'm sooooo impressed!

maclen said...

Wow... so I just checked out the youtube vids of the idol performances...blech...santana is great of course, but as I mentioned earlier...reality show Idol is really a mediocre showcase for anyone of quality talent, as santana is...but it really is an embarrassing step down for him to be reduced to an in person, "karaoke machine" for all those idol wannabes! It reminded me of a overblown vegas show of parading singers hoofing it up on stage. As for the orbs duet...boy, two bland white dudes warbling a just as bland and tepid song... but boy, that "bikini girl" singer performance sure did add a much needed act of "class" to the whole production...didnt it?! American Idol is the modern day "Gong Show"..the only difference is that they just dont actually have the gong!

maclen said...

Ha! Now this is HIGH hi-larity!

http://laineygossip.com/Keith_Urban_face_looks_freshly_filled_at_American_Idol.aspx?CatID=0&CelID=0

Are you borrowing from your wife?...yeah, the shallow temptation of going on the stuff... because you know, "it is better to look good than to feel good".. too bad his music is not substancial enough to sell... but no doubt the fansie's will just love it...their "teen dream" heartthrob "just looks so dreamy...just like a fracken Jonas bro, ya'll!??

A440 said...

He does look like he's been Botoxed. And he's de-scruffed. And he dresses like a failed stockbroker.

He is utterly asexual now. And that's perfect for Nicole, as there is no longer a chance in hell that he can outshine her in any way.

Except for the genuflecting. He's got that over her. By a country mile.

hoosierlady said...

What's the deal? He's getting all these great reviews and she's not salivating over his shoulder?

Is she in the hospital? Did she break her spine and is in a full body cast?

This is free PR, and she isn't using it? It's too warm here for Hades to be freezing over, so what's up? This is scarry. When she isn't making any noise I get a little frightened.

banbotox said...

Loved the review and this guy is spot on...
Thanks UM

A440 said...

Actually, hoosierlady, I like the fact that she's not drawing focus away from him. When it comes to country-music red carpets and whatnot, she has no business calling attention to herself. Her job, as a good little wife, is to do what she did for Tom: look pretty and stfu.

She has plenty of opportunities to shine on her own for Oscar and movie tributes where Keith, rightly, is relegated to the background. It's about time she returned the favor and let her sycophant-husband shine on his own. I like looking at the photos of music industry get-togethers and seeing him...and only him.

frankie said...

A440 said ... I like looking at the photos of music industry get-togethers and seeing him...and only him.

That is SO true!! It's so much nicer looking at the red carpet pics, and concert pics, without her clinging to him! She's always got to be hanging all over him (maybe so he won't run away)! Since she towers over him, and he always seems like he's in the background even when it's for a music event - it's really so nice to see just him in the pictures!!!!

hoosierlady said...

A440-I could not agree more, and here's hoping they have found that happy medium. . . !

Imahick said...

I liked that without NK on the red carpet at AI, Keith looked like himself. No 3 piece suit, making him look like a banker and not a musician.

Her presence transforms him into someone other than Keith Urban, the country superstar. He becomes Keith Kidman. She towers over him. He wears ill fitting suits and high heels and smiles fakely for the cameras, while nuzzling her neck (cause he can't reach her cheek).

I don't know why it is, but when he's on his own, he is himself and doesn't appear to be playing a role.

LightSourceYoga said...

I have faithfully read this blog for a long time and usually agree with a lot of what is posted here. However, it appears there are a few people who obviously feel KU can't do anything right--even after a great concert in Chicago. He DID exactly what you have wanted--he did SHUT UP AND SING and we didn't hear about his wife.
BOTOX issue--face it, he is famous, he is constantly being photographed, SO what if he get's botox or fillers? I thought he was looking exhausted anyway. That doesn't make him NK...she is just one surgery short of turning into a Michael Jackson freak. A little botox or fillers does help you look better, when used properly.
I have had botox, and the majority of people I know have had it a few times. All of these people aren't BAD. All botox does is reduce crow's feet and eliminate the lines between the eyebrows. It isn't used anywhere else.
I personally never read about NK because I can't stand her. I have always like KU, I don't understand his choice for a wife, but I am interested in KU for his music and he is gorgeous. I will agree I hate the way she has him dress and wish he would stand up for himself. However, If he feels he needs some botox or fillers to feel better about himself then go for it, better this than crack, or alcohol abuse. He has overcome a lot with his addictions. I am here for his music, and happy he isn't actively fighting addiction. Hopefully, he will continue to give great concerts and play good music.

Imahick said...

I don't have a problem with him having some cosmetic refreshment done, as long as it's within reason. I don't want him to go nuts with it and end up looking fake and sort of scary, like NK. She has gone too far.

I'm not convinced that he's used anything yet, but time will tell. I saw him making the same faces as he always does in pictures from recent shows. If he looked younger in the AI TV appearance, it could have been lighting or filters on the cameras. I need to see some pictures from shows this week for a better view.

dontlikethepez said...

Well as a KU fan (far from a bunny though) even I have to admit that the man has had cosmetic surgery done. I don't mean botox or enhancements here and there (currently) but I am referring to more extensive work done prior to "Golden Road". I mean, look back at him with the white/blonde spikey hair-do and his features/teeth at that time....ugh, it is really obvious that the man does NOT look like that anymore. He doesn't even look like the same man that posed in Playgirl all those years ago...and it didn't come from the "healthy, southern" cooking that he has available to him now either! I am not saying it is right or wrong...to each their own, but it has been done and yes, the man looks DAMN good!! Bravo...maybe NK should have consulted with his "magician". LOL