The world according to Garth
We'll just get it out of the way — the show last Thursday night was phenomenal. Really, this show felt like it was as much about us as it was about Garth Brooks. The experience of raising double-fisted tall boys, digesting chicken fingers and grinding from side to side while belting out the "oooooh-WAYYYY-sis" high notes of "Friends in Low Places" as part of a deafening crowd of thousands wasn't just a highlight of last night, but maybe even a highlight of our life — and one that made us proud to be American.
Hours earlier, as we watched the singer pace briskly around a meeting room in Bridgestone Arena, fielding questions at a midday press conference, his excitement and anticipation of the nine shows he was about to play was already radiating from him — as much as any fan queued in the cold outside the arena.
Set to the sounds of Queen's "We Will Rock You," the show began with Brooks' backing band emerging, as if out of nowhere, from the bowels of the sparse, open stage, as a cylindrical chariot of flashing lights delivered the man of the hour from the rafters. As Brooks and band kicked into "Rodeo," it was as if time stood still during the 12 years Brooks had deprived his fans, and himself, of the stadium-country spectaculars that made him a superstar.
For nearly two hours, the delirious, multigenerational crowd — many of whom had traveled across state lines, maybe even international waters, to be there — never ceased singing along to the seminal pop-country showstoppers that made up the 18-song set. And Brooks hung on their every word. For those two hours we repeatedly surprised ourselves by involuntarily singing along to songs we'd forgotten we even knew existed, let alone knew the words to.
Donning his iconic headset mic, tight jeans, cowboy hat, tucked-in button-down and acoustic guitar — which he at one point joked was there to hide his belly — along with his impossibly magical twinkle of the eye, Brooks worked the crowd from every edge of the stage, running himself out of breath, doing his trademark finger-points at what felt like every individual in attendance, and passionately delivering his hits at a pace that never betrayed how rusty he said he was.
This being Brooks' return to the full-band, full-fledged arena format, there was a unique kind of energy and palpable excitement. While it's not unusual to see a big artist at a big venue appear bowled over by the human hurricane they're standing in the eye of, it's still typically part of a touring routine. That wasn't the case that night. And watching Brooks come off as the giddiest guy in the room, like a kid attending their first concert, drove the night to transcendence.
Comparisons to Elvis' '68 comeback special definitely entered our minds a time or two. And like that show, this one really — to our surprise — wasn't heavy on dazzling production hijinks. There was no pyro, no laser lights, no flying Garth. But none of that stuff could ever have matched the moment at hand.
Brooks said he was excited to play songs, like "Shameless," songs he's unable to pull off when doing his one-man Vegas show. And time and time again, during catalog staples like "Much Too Young," "The Beaches of Cheyenne" and "The River," Brooks looked overwhelmed by his emotions as he bathed in the loud love and sung-back choruses. From our seats behind the stage, seeing the mass emotion the crowd poured out as they intoned the soundtrack to their lives was, at the risk of sounding un-Spin-like, truly a sight of beauty to behold. Hearts of stone would've been moved.
Given the context of the flood that inspired this string of benefit shows, anthems of struggle like "Unanswered Prayers" and "We Shall Be Free" — which was accompanied by images of May's devastation flashing across the scoreboard screens — were especially rousing. This is what people want out of a concert. And Thursday night that kind of transcendence was as raw and real as it could ever get.
But the emotion that dominated the night was joy. Especially when it came time for party jams like "Callin' Baton Rouge" — maybe the most rockin' song of the night — Brooks' signature "Friends in Low Places" and the show-closing hootenanny "Ain't Goin' Down 'Til the Sun Comes Up." We felt purified as our years of pent-up pretension and snark momentarily melted away and we line-danced in place among the real housewives of Middle Tennessee, their little kids in cowboy hats and husbands decked out in Realtree.
Then there were the ballads. "The Thunder Rolls." "The Dance." Each killed. There were also guests. Music Row luminary Steve Wariner came out to join Brooks in fronting the band through "Long Neck Bottle," and — as billed — Trisha Yearwood came out and brought the house down, joining her hubby on "In Another's Eyes," before taking center stage to sing her own "She's in Love With the Boy." Brooks also repeatedly praised his longtime backing band who, as far as we could tell, executed a note-perfect performance in spite of their long hiatus.
As the house lights came up, we couldn't help but feel the temptation to find tickets to one of the following seven shows — like getting off a rollercoaster and then immediately wanting to get back in line to ride it again. So epic.
The Spin wishes you a merry Garth-mas! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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