Keith Urban Brought a Marching Band Onstage in Nashville
Which of the eight celebrities Keith Urban brought to the stage in Nashville on Friday night do you want to talk about first? The actress? No, not the one he's married to, the other one. Or maybe you want to get right to the marching band.
Urban's Graffiti U Tour stop at Bridgestone Arena was a 29-song, two-and-a-half-hour, bar-raising homecoming for the singer, and he clearly enjoyed every moment of it. More than ever, the 50-year-old is looking at ease creating controlled chaos on and off stage. Fans quickly discovered it was important to scout side stage and back of the stage for the next surprise entrance, although the band did swarm from all over.
"Never Comin' Down," Urban's current single, was a bold choice to open the show, and in fact, the show got off to a slow start compared to what was to come. Three songs in, he took a lengthy break to say hello and bring two fans from North Carolina on stage. Quickly, wife Nicole Kidman joined them for a selfie taken by her Big Little Lies co-star Reese Witherspoon. They declined to sing, and Urban sent them off so he could sing "Somewhere in My Car" and "Long Hot Summer," the latter of which featured his first and least remarkable guitar solo break.
Choosing to ease into the throttle, the star ironically found a new gear during his most sensitive moments. Opener Kelsea Ballerini joined him on stage for "We Were Us," and then a Belmont student named Ashley Sorensen added harmonies to "Without You." This was Urban making good on a promise from January, when at a pop-up show in Nashville he told her to join him later in the year.
An acoustic rendition of "Stupid Boy" got the typically complacent music industry crowd's attention, and the likely sold out audience made it through the Shy Carter collaboration ("My Life") to get to Larkin Poe, the phenom sister duo from Atlanta. "Where the Blacktop Ends" was an excuse for a jam session, and it was brilliant. Megan Lovell made a few fans on Friday, as did sister Rebecca with a powerful, Americana voice. Urban controlled the tension during their duel, bringing it to a fever pitch in time to force a standing ovation. There's something splendid about watching a new artist seize the moment. A few happy tears can be forgiven.
The "now let's see who's behind door No. 1" atmosphere continued. Kassi Ashton would leap to the riser to sing her part of "Drop Top," a beachy country-rocker from Graffiti U that went over much better once she appeared in person (her first chorus was pre-recorded), cutting a striking silhouette against Urban's dynamic video screens. Visually the show was as stunning as any country show at Bridgestone in recent memory. Anyone who plays their 90 minutes and only surprises fans with the same collaboration they do in every other city will be falling far short in the near future.
But not everyone can call on Carrie Underwood. A pleasantly round Underwood joined Urban for "The Fighter" and held the main stage while the headliner cut through the crowd to a back of the house set up. From opposite ends of the arena, the two then dueled for a few minutes before Urban's three-song showcase that included a guitar giveaway.
"John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16" and "Wasted Time" felt like perfect show closers after a set that that over-delivered, but Urban had one more trick. From the back and sides, the Tennessee State University marching band streamed forward in uniform to help out on the No. 1 hit from Ripcord. Urban ducked off stage and returned in a Nashville Predators jersey before blowing the metaphorical roof off the building. Streamers rained over the lower bowl as the tubas twisted, the trombones turned and the drum line kept a wild dance beat. It felt like a mini-Super Bowl
But wait, there's more. Actually Urban's Grand Ole Opry tribute with "But for the Grace of God" was sweet, but a quick drop in energy. Yet the crowd remained to hear him close with "Horses," an album cut from Graffiti U that was as unexpected a show closer as "Never Comin' Down" was an opener. "Unexpected" was the theme of the night.
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