According to legend, or maybe he made it up himself, James Brown was the hardest working man in show business. But since he has left the building, Keith Urban has great credentials to claim that title. Thursday night, Urban proved it all night long for 11,558 fans at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. It was one of the best rock concerts ever seen at the arena.
Oh, yes, Urban is considered country by some, but anyone who was there would probably dispute that limiting categorization. Urban delivered a full-tilt rock performance, worthy of comparison with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and U2. He and his equally hard-working four-man band blazed through nearly 30 songs in a show that seldom slowed its pace over the course of nearly two and a half hours.
Urban opened with “Never Comin’ Down,” an apt choice, and then tore into “Days Go By” (with its sage advice “We talk about forever but we’ve only got today.”) Other choice greatest hits in the show were “You Gonna Fly,” “The Fighter” (with Carrie Underwood’s part projected on a giant screen), “Somebody Like You,” “Stupid Boy” and, of course, “Blue Ain’t Your Color.”
One of his new songs, “Female,” stood out, as did his duet on “We Were Us” with his opening act, Kelsi Ballerini. Other great moments came with “Put You in a Song,” “Love the Way It Hurts (So Good),” “Wasted Time” and the songs (“Wade in the Water” and “Where the Blacktop Ends” that he did with a new young female duo, Larkin Poe, who recently headlined the Hot Water Hill Festival in Hot Springs.
Somehow, an encore was part of Urban’s design of a memorable evening, beginning with him introducing one of his guitars as having formerly been owned by Waylon Jennings, and how the song, “But for the Grace of God,” was his first hit. The final song was another new one, “Horses.”
There’s no forgetting the theatrical bits — the lasers, the lights, shape shifting projection screens, color and black and white imagery. Why, someone might assume Urban had connections with movie industry types, maybe advice from his famous actress wife. Some of the effects would have been right at home in a Roger Waters (Pink Floyd) concert, and if you compare Urban’s guitar skills to that of David Gilmour, that makes for another Pink Floyd comparison.
But as far as country — I think there were a couple of songs that featured some banjo parts in them, but other than that, Urban could easily hold his own with any rock ‘n’ roll types.
And talk about a person — he’s 51 and looks like a young Tom Petty — who obviously loves his work and his musicians, he even introduced the guys in the band and let them show out on song fragments. And at one point in the show, after making his way off the stage and through the crowd, he performed at the far end of the arena, and when he finished, he chose a member of the audience, pulled her up on the stage, wiped off his guitar, signed it and gave it to her.
Opening act Ballerini got a generous 45 minute set and was a sparkly delight in her, uh, hot pants. Her song, “Miss Me More,” was an impressive selection, as was her cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
It was not surprising that as fans were filing out, Urban was still kneeling on the stage, signing fans’ posters and things. What a guy.