Keith Urban Transcends Genre & Attitude In Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: Live Review

Photo by Brennon Williamson, Courtesy of PFA Media

Keith Urban emerged, back lit, on top of a riser with two thin rails of white lights cascading from the top of the light truss in an arc to the floor before the drum riser. Urban’s rock star bona fides were on full display as he and his band whipped the set-opening “Tumbleweed” into a whirling feel good invitation for a balmy summer night.

Twenty-five songs later – with a guilty pleasure insert of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which had the crowd doo-wopping along – the Australian-born country superstar showed rock & roll transcends both genre and attitude. Long on joyous celebration, the euphoria evidenced by the way his band converges on songs, lifted “Where The Black Top Ends,” “You Gonna Fly” and “Somewhere In My Car.”

The caliber of the musicianship – not just Urban, but a five-piece band that includes former Ranch bassist Jerry Flowers – is so fluid, it could be easy to miss how exceptional it is. Urban plays the way he sings, seemingly effortless until actually realizing how many notes, the way they land, bend or extend. Those solos often deepen the emotion each song contains, a wordless expression that seeps inside fans.

While Urban’s highly evolved masculinity and romanticism is a massive draw for women – the vulnerability and strength in “Tonight I Want To Cry,” the slinky “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” the whispery connection that built to a Stevie Wonder “Love’s In Need of Love Today”-invoking “God Whispered Your Name” – it’s that playing that allows the many men in the audience to be more than a designated driver.

Whether the chunky “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16,” the Song Slot Machine selected “Cop Car” or the winking “You Look Good In My Shirt,” Urban brings a wink to songs that witness freedom in for both sexes. Even bringing a woman named Rita onstage for an impromptu “Happy Birthday” experience that was as hilarious as heartfelt, there was only love and a freewheeling sense of connection.

After an undulating “One Too Many” – featuring video of Pink delivering her part of their #1 duet – Urban worked the ride-out, trotting down the wings, into the crowd, up the center aisle and onto a small B stage set up for the benefit of the folks on the lawn. “Look, a front row seat” he joked to the GA fans. Without missing a beat to those under the pavilion, “And you – backstage passes.”

Photo by Brennon Williamson, Courtesy of PFA Media

He performed a clap-along take on John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” then his own “Better Life.” Working an acoustic busking aesthetic, he finished the slightly bruised “You’ll Think of Me” – and began searching the crowd to find someone to gift the guitar to.

That generosity of spirit makes his performances a place to find your best self. Whether the crazy dreamer encouraging “Wild Hearts,” the get-your-swerve-on reveler “Long Hot Summer” or the Carrie Underwood-on-the-video “I’ve got your back” love song “The Fighter,” Urban live makes you believe you can. Period. Whatever is might be, bring it, live it, do it, go.

After a set closing “Wasted Time,” marked with massive amounts of brightly colored confetti, Urban returned alone to play an unreleased “Dreamers, Drinkers and Broken Things,” which captured the odd toy reality of those who chase impossible desires, followed by a full band unplugged indictment of female-undermining “Stupid Boy.” The one-two punch was sobering, powerful and a perfect reminder that for all the joy conjured, this is a man committed to seeking truth, lifting up the unseen and reminding people to be their best selves.

“Be good to yourselves,” he told the crowd, before taking that final bow, “Be good to each other.”