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Taping Of Keith Urban For PBS' "Front And Center" At Highline Ballroom, Monday, July 21st, 2014, Reviewed

Keith Bon Jovi

Keith Bon Jovi

The last time I saw Keith Urban on stage was in 2008, also with my companion of Monday night, Lisa Fay, and he was also very good, very high energy, very easy going and charming. A terrific guy. But it was at Madison Square Garden and Lisa and I were in the cheap seats staring down like at some tousled haired man boy.

The concept behind PBS’ “Front And Center” is a really really good one: get Arena rockers and put them in small clubs. MSG fits 17,500, Highline Ballroom 1000 and so for this taping we got to see the dirty blonde Nicole Kidman hubby, Australian country superstar  so close we could count the lines on his face. Except there weren’t any because at 46 years of age, Keith has either forgotten to grow old or has the best plastic surgeon on the planet, but the rake thin, sweat soaked guitarist looked ten years longer and with his backing band, a Presley wannabe, a Keith lookalike on rhythm guitar and electric banjo, looked like they just clambered out of some gay fantasia, and a rhythm section this side of gnarled, were an electric hard rocking centerpiece for an almost shocked audience of Urbanites delighted at his closeness.

The band sounded great, I mean really and this is something rock writer Ken Shane once told me, whatever you think of “bro country” or all these not real guys, the backing bands are always world class. It was true Monday night, the band were on the money through the entire evening and what I got from the show, which was  maybe not what the women in the audience got, was enormous respect for the musicianship. What I don’t like about Keith is his songs not his playing, on his current Fuse it is a major problem, his ballads are lachrymose, uxorious bullshit, and his rockers are lame Bon Jovi ish riffs… for the most part, sometimes he just gets the song right and gets a smash hit for his efforts.

The evening began with a mini five song set off Fuse and since I am on the record as hating the record, I have no real explanation as to why I loved it live. Perhaps just the thrill of the event was taking me along, though Lisa agreed with me, but it was truly a better experience in person. “Even The Stars Fall For U” which I kinda realized was really good but didn’t like its surroundings enough to pin down, is a sound feast and also a visual feast, the two guitars to the left and the bass and drums to Keith’s left surround him and this close you can see how enthusiastic the band is. The banjo player was singing along to himself.

Something else, I noticed Keith say “Thank you” to the guitar tech who switched guitars for him. Nobody thanks their guitar techs except for good guys and it was something he did without knowing anybody would notice. Keith is well mannered!!!

Just ready to settle into the gig proper and the band take an overlong break and for the live happening I’m seeing, it is bad. I’d been on line since 530p, and three hours later I am officially ready to buckle and Lisa felt much the same way, The tickets cost $75 but this isn’t really about us, it is about the filming. There are cameras all around us, though, to PBS credit, they aren’t particularly disruptive and they well could be. Still, for Keith playing to an audience he has lost

1. The immediacy of the first sighting

and

2. The momentum.

And then he was unhappy with the first take on “Till Summer Comes Round” (off Defying Gravity)  and played it again, killing the momentum further, though  the second version had a much much better ending and it took  until that end, 20 minutes into the 80 minute second set,  for Keith to get the set back on track.  “You Gonna Fly” -which had no reason to work, did. It lead the way for “Long Heart Summer”, “Someone Like You”, a stellar showoffy guitar solo by Urban on “Stupid Boy”  and a surprisingly effective “Cop Car”. But best of all a show stopping “Who Wouldn’t Want To Be Me” with four of the band singing the hook a capella round a mic.

Keith Urban reminded me a little of Jon Bon Jovi, he has a similar hard rock but not art rock rock sound and similar limitations as an artist, though Keith is a better musician. And if you can imagine seeing Bon Jovi at the Highline instead of MSG you’ll get a feel for the vibe of the evening. Lisa loved it, leaving most of her ire for the folks in the audience who decided they couldn’t hear each other speak over Keith so started shouting.

Me? I hate Standing room Only gigs bit I would go to a “Front And Center” taping any time.

Grade: B+

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