Everybody's got a cross to carry
Everybody's got a story they can tell
After a parade of rocking classic rock mash-ups to warm the crowd up, Keith Urban's shadow arose from beneath the stage to appear in front of the white high definition screen as an austere riff was played by one of his guitarists as the band entered the stage from the side. Urban was raised on a platform before the crowd and as he strode down to the microphone I could hear the women around me gasp while their eyes widened with pure joyous delight as they pierced the crowd with pulsating shrieks that I thought only Justin Timberlake could warrant. "Once In a Lifetime", a cathartic exposition of fidelity, was the starting point for what would be an emotionally releasing evening. I've never been a Keith Urban fan but a dear close friend, Becky Baker is. She's been trying to get me on the Urban bandwagon since 2003 and while I have always admired her dedication, I've never quite felt the need to delve deep into his catalog or see him in concert. Thanks to her constant emails begging and pleading me to see him live (and a little luck) I was blessed to be sent to review the Milwaukee stop on his current world tour. While it was the first time I had ever seen him live, I can guarantee you it will not be the last. Fifteen-minutes into Keith Urban's Milwaukee concert, I went from being a spectator to one of these steadfast followers even though I scarcely knew the songs.
Urban has made a career of writing unpretentious songs lined with optimism and stories of the daily struggles everyone encounters. His latest album, 'Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing' pulls inspiration from a maturing man who appears to truly understand who he is as a person and the path in front of him. The performances of "Can't Stop Loving You", "Shine" and "Stupid Boy" were exquisitely transcendent as I saw an artist who was writing something deeper than the affecting songs with catchy melodies would lead one to believe. "Can't Stop Loving You" may have been a cover but you would have assumed he wrote it because his vocal delivery was beguiling. The seductive finesse he has in concert is something to marvel at; he is passionate and provocative. I could see this is someone who is pouring not just 100% of his physical energy into the show, but 100% of his mental energy as well.
Every step I take
I get a little less afraid
-"Used To The Pain"
I've listened to Urban's albums over the years and while melodic, they never warranted repeat listens. Nothing against Keith or any member of his production team, it's just that the music did not speak to me. But after seeing the sweat drenched performance in Milwaukee, I've had his last three albums on constant rotation on my iPod. He hits the concert stage running and it was nothing short of enthralling. I was most impressed with the songs from 'Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing' as they appear to be the most indisputable and candid of his career. He has found his voice, which soars due to the clarity with which he views life. Considering everything he has been through over the last eighteen-months, I find this album to be an absorbing confessional booth for him to turn the page on his past without being nostalgic and a clear eye on the future which by all accounts he is embracing.
Ticket prices for this show ranged from $26 to $52 and no, I didn't forget to add a "1" after the dollar sign. Isn't he married to a Hollywood star? Doesn't this mean he should at least be charging over $100 for the seats closest to the stage? He could, but he has chosen not to. To say I respect this is an understatement. We are living in a day and age where many artists and promoters will take as much money from fans as they can. The word "devotion" comes into play here. Fans that are deeply devoted will pay anything to see their favorite acts up close and even though many promoters are doing this, it does not make it right. Urban kept ticket prices fair so that anyone could attend these shows. His most expensive ticket is cheaper than most other acts cheapest ticket. I may see Urban again in the future, multiple times no less, if for no other reason that it is affordable while other acts will miss out on me reviewing their shows because I'll be able to see three Urban shows for the price of one of theirs.
One thing I was not expecting was for Urban's guitar prowess to be awe-inspiring. He's a shredder whose talent is virtuosic but he embellishes his solos in a way that elevates the songs in concert taking them from enduring performances to epic ones. At the end of his superb solo during "Once In A Lifetime" my wife turned to me and said "he's both Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora".and she was dead on Urban unleashed his inner Sambora on this virtuosic solo. "Faster Car" featured Urban taking over the bass, which he performed as a guitar to great success. His swagger and the band's driving force took the song from a song that I found forgettable on the album to a talking point after the show. I went back to listen to "Faster Car" again on the album and it just doesn't compare to seeing it and feeling it live.
Sometimes in our lives
We get to where we wonder if
The long road that we're on
Is heading in the same direction
-"You'll Think of Me"
After a burning opening set of rockers, Urban decelerated the momentum as he performed a solo acoustic rendition of "Raining On Sunday" in a refined, yet startling performance as he sauntered down midway to the B-Stage. On the album this is merely another ballad, but tonight it was poetic and it allowed the lyrics to shine though. Towards the end of the song, Urban asked the audience to "sing it up" where he stepped away from the microphone to have the audience finish the song. I'm indifferent to the album version from 'Golden Road', but tonight it was flat out stunning and subtle. It made me want to see this show more than once just to have this experience again. The acoustic set, which took place on the B-Stage, was more erect than I had anticipated with the "You're My Better Half" complimenting the more melancholy "Making Memories of Us" and "You'll Think of Me". After the latter, the crew removed the stools from the stage as the band tore through a single from his latest release; "I Told You So" is a soulful rocker which unleashed itself on the unsuspecting crowd. Immediately upon the finish of the acoustic set, a drum line squad was on stage and performed as the band headed back to the main stage where they tore through the rip-roaring "Days Go By" which had the entire crowd stomping, clapping and howling their way through the evening's definitive moment. Moments like this make you feel part of a larger community where everyone understands the inner you. When you hold your hands in the air and scream "Take 'em by the hand and live your life" you feel as if you are testifying to a higher power. I live for moments like these and acts like U2, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Prince and Will Hoge are the few I have been to that can make a concert performance feel spiritual and surreal. After witnessing "Days Go By", I'll have to add Keith Urban to that list
Run, run running, I was running scared
Always looking for a place to leave
And I couldn't seem to find where I belonged
-"Got It Right This Time"
The main set came to an explosive finale-Urban held the audience in the palm of his hand as they sang along to every word of "Who Wouldn't Want To Be Me" and "Somebody Like You", both from his 2002 album 'Golden Road'. Urban understands what it takes to work an arena crowd and he succeeds with flying colors. This crowd was an intoxicating assortment of blue-collar female fans who looked upon Urban as more than a rock God in tight jeans, but an artist they see themselves in. They see him as a human with faults and through his songs they dig deep into their own souls attempting to reconcile their demons. When you hear a song like "Got It Right This Time", which opened the emotionally charged climatic encore, you see divine inner light transmute through him as the adulation becomes something more.internal reconciliation. The whole purpose of being an artist is to provide your fan base with something to not just grasp onto during trying times, but hopefully they'll take that with them, reflect and strive to change the troublesome aspects of their lives. Right before the evening's finale, "Everybody", Urban told the crowd, 'It's all about love".and he's right. Whether we want to admit it or not is another thing. Some artists would never let their guard down enough to express their intricate emotions, but Urban wears his on his sleeve almost as a badge of honor and if you don't believe me, just read his unyielding lyrics. Sandwiched in between these two introspective ballads was the evocative "Better Life" (co-written by the infinitely underrated Richard Marx) and the crowd was on their feet, arms in the air and mouths agape with every lyric escaping from their lips as they swear that their "faith is strong". There was something weighty seeing so many people intoxicated by an artist who has experienced the best and worst life has to offer and who has overcome life's obstacles to find a "better life".
Urban's music, which should not be dismissed as simple pop/rock, distills decades of influence from Hank Williams to Johnny Cash to Steve Miller to John Mellencamp. His tastes are eclectic and considering he has found a way to forge these influences into a unique, rocking, rockabilly and soul revue is astonishing. Urban's music may be synonymous with country music, but he takes his cue from performers whose music arose out of the 1960's and through the transmutation of a wide variety of rock genres he turns it into a sublime and secular experience that transforms you when you hear and most importantly when you experience it live.
Throughout the two-plus hours, I saw thousands of smiles across the arena and in the end...is there anything better? The key to a great concert is to entertain those who pay to see you perform while making their worries evaporate for a short period of time. Keith Urban is someone who should not be underestimated as he's a tormented soul who understands the beauty and harshness of life. He lives and breathes in these impeccably textured harmonies making them so appealing that his fans grasp and hold onto them like scripture. There is hope and optimism in his lyrics and this is why I believe he's a superstar. Keith Urban will only continue to grow in popularity as he continues to inspire, develop and transform into one of the definitive artists of our time.
That sun is shining on a brand new day
It's a long way down
And it's a leap of faith
But we're never giving up
-"Once In A Lifetime"
Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door
Milwaukee Set List
- Once in a Lifetime
- Where the Blacktop Ends
- Faster Car/All Right Now
- Raining on Sunday (acoustic, solo)
- Stupid Boy
- Used to the Pain
- Better Half*
- Making Memories of Us*
- You'll Think of Me*
- I Told You So*
- Drum chorus
- Days Go By
- I Can't Stop Loving You
- Tonight I Want to Cry
- Who Wouldn't Want to Be Me
- Somebody Like You
- Got It Right This Time
- Better Life