Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
March 20, 2016
As the final concert of the 2016 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo commenced, pyrotechnics filled Reliant Stadium to help usher in everyone’s favorite Australian country star, Keith Urban. Immediately, a palpable vibe of positivity filled the venue as the Grammy winner and Houston fan favorite beamed with pure joy, genuinely excited to perform to the Texas crowd. From the moment the concert began, Houston could clearly see the two reasons that after 20-plus years of a thriving career, Urban remains a reigning king of New Country: Keith Urban is a damn talented artist and a damn nice guy.
As if knowingly hand-selected for Houston’s impending change of season, Sunday night’s set began with 2010 radio hit “Long Hot Summer.” Urban, who is often known just as well for his iconic flat-ironed haircut as he is for his music, shut down any potential doubts about his musical credentials within the first few bars of the number. The song was a showcase of abilities: a pitch-perfect singing voice rich in tone, clever and relatable songwriting, and overall musicianship.
Second song “Somewhere in My Car” was a particular highlight of country songwriting. There is no doubt about it, Urban curates New Country, but while it effectively pulls the audience’s heartstrings with its sentimentality, Urban’s music is decidedly low in the drivel department (which unfortunately is a poison common to the New Country genre). While the common themes are present, they don’t seem obvious or cliché. “Somewhere in My Car” was also the first of many hairband-esque guitar solos, showcasing yet another one of Urban’s talents.
“Sweet Thing” again showed off Urban’s guitar skills, but this time highlighted more intricate fingerwork. Urban is an underrated guitarist, and it's clear to see that he genuinely loves to play. He loves to sing, too. And he loves to perform. Simply, Keith Urban loves his job. The man is an Aussie ball of sunshine, seemingly grateful for every moment he has with his audience. After singing to each section of the stadium (“Everybody up top/around the middle/down here, can we hear you?”) Urban and his band did a cute little interlude of “Deep in the Heart of Texas,” followed by yet another impressive guitar solo.
Keith Urban is like a one-man, New Country version of an '80s hair band: He writes catchy, well-loved songs, croons moving power ballads, possesses an undeniable voice, shreds guitar solos and is known for his hairdo. All of this is true, but he’s got the best voice of any hair band singer, more talent than any hair band guitarist and a performance quality to rival that of any showy frontman. Bret Michaels, eat your heart out.
Throughout “Break on Me” and “Little Bit of Everything,” Urban was visibly itching to be closer to the audience (which, because of the setup, was awkwardly far away from the stage). “If I had a wish, I’d have you all down in the front,” Urban oozed to the crowd, making everyone wonder how much energy from them he was actually receiving. During the audience-requested “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” Urban pulled out a bass and showcased yet another talent. It wouldn’t have been surprising if he hopped on the drums. Or pulled out a harmonica. Or did a backflip, for that matter. Fan favorite “Kiss a Girl” was next, with Urban again connecting with the crowd as much as he could: “Even though you’re all the way up there, I can hear you singing! Even though you’re all the way over there, I can see you dancing!”
“Cop Car” was next and exposed the single most important ingredient of a successful country song: nostalgia. The easiest way to attain a widespread connection within the audience, regardless of life experience or generation, is to tap into universal cultural emotion. In this case, “Cop Car” had everyone dreaming of first loves and high school sweethearts; the first time rules were broken in the name of love and adventure. Nostalgia: the emotional currency of country music. What edges out Urban is that he uses nostalgia in conjunction with true talent and musicianship. “You Gonna Fly” had the audience wiping away their sentimental tears and raising NRG’s energy.
Like a pot that couldn’t simmer any longer, Urban’s own excitement boiled over to the point that he simply could not be sequestered from his audience for another moment. “You Look Good in My Shirt” had Urban leave the stage and, like a Rodeo horse, start walking the perimeter of the arena. At moments he was actually running, all while playing guitar and singing, never making a sour note. “I was thinking if I can’t bring you up, I would come to you,” he crooned as he took sing-along selfies, kissed women, handed out high-fives, expressed beard envy and repeatedly expressed his love of “friendly” Texas. Takes one to know one, Keith.
“Raise ’Em Up” had Urban back on the stage, thanking the crowd for a great sixth show in Houston, before closing the evening with the pop-laden “Love Somebody.” Urban thanked Texas for always treating him and his band “like family,” and as they all pulled away in the bed of a Ford pickup truck with tons of pyro blasting in every direction, the audience could hear Urban’s last words of the night: “Only in Texas.” He ain’t lyin’.
Plainly put, Keith Urban is a supremely talented guy. Whether or not his particular brand of music is someone’s favorite flavor is pretty inconsequential: Talent is talent. And it doesn’t hurt that he is probably one of the most genuinely nice guys in the universe.