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Concert Reviews:
Urban, Swift Make For Superstar Country Tandem At The Palace

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, June 7, 2009

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AUBURN HILLS -- A Keith Urban show is usually a big deal unto itself. After a decade years of establishing a headline rep as one of country's most exciting live performers, he doesn't really need much else to drum up the excitement.

But that bar was raised a bit on Saturday night (June 6) at the Palace.

With sales of some 7.5 million copies of her two albums and a slew of hits, Taylor Swift was more than a mere support act on Urban's show. One only had to watch the legions of young girls walking into the arena from the parking lot or check out the abundant Swift T-shirt sales at the souvenir stand -- or, frankly, eyeball the number of folks who left before or during Urban's set -- to recognize that the willowy 19-year-old had quite a bit to do with bringing a sell-out crowd of more than 16,000 to the Palace.

But on stage, it was equally clear that the upstart had much to learn from the veteran.

Though his flannel shirt, jeans and chin scruff make Urban look like a guy who just rolled out of his bunk on the tour bus and a few minutes before taking the stage, the Australian-raised singer/songwriter/guitar ace has actually honed his two-hour show into a finely tuned ebb and flow that conveys both formula and freshness. He and his five-piece band erase the rock-country line with genial ease and an appearance of looseness that belies how tight and instinctive the group really is.

The 19-songs set started with "Hit the Ground Runnin' " from his latest album, "Defying Gravity," but Urban and company went light on the chart-topping set during the night, playing just four other tracks including the upbeat "Sweet Thing" and "Kiss a Girl" (the latter of which prompted many signs in the crowd for Urban to kiss a specific girl -- or more). Instead the hits dominated, from early-set favorites such as "Days Go By," "Where the Blacktop Ends," "You're My Better Half" and the prettier-every-year "Stupid Boy" to the late-show barn-burners "You Look Good in My Shirt," "Somebody Like You" and "Better Life."

Urban's new elements this year were primarily in his staging. The formidable rear-stage video screen was back, this time divided into five sections, but this time instead of the long walkway down the middle of the arena floor two steep, banked ramps allowed Urban and his band members to casually stroll into the crowd -- with surprisingly minimal security (only two women actually succeeded in climbing UP them and onto the stage during the show). During "You're My Better Half" Urban walked down one side of the arena floor to a platform behind the sound board, where he played a two-song set -- even inviting two visibly disinterested young girls (both wearing Swift T-shirts) to sit up there with him so they could have a better view while he played an acoustic "Making Memories of Us."

He sojourned out once more during "You Look Good in My Shirt," playing on another small platform situated in the Palace's grandstand.

And rather than simply announcing the Red Wings' winning score, Urban instead came out for "Better Life" sporting a Wings jersey and telling the crowd, which mostly knew what happened via cell phone, "I believe you guys should be in a pretty good mood tonight!"

Swift certainly helped in that regard, as she and her seven-piece took the stage to Mylie Cyrus/Jonas Brothers kind of screams. Her hour-long performance leaned more towards pop-rock than Urban's more classic model, and there was an air of Fiona Apple and Tori Amos in her writhing, hair-tossing histrionics as she sang -- with gusto -- about the men who done her wrong. "This is about a guy who cheated on me and shouldn't have, 'cause I write songs," she said in introducing her 2008 hit "Should've Said No."

Heartbreak permeated her set, including an video interview segment -- while she was changing dresses -- in which she explained why she included real ex-boyfriends' names in her song. And in case we didn't get the point of the scathing "You're Not Sorry," Swift segued -- cleverly-- into a rendition of the Justin Timberlake kiss-off "What Goes Around.../...Comes Around."

Swift's set certainly had her buoyant moments, too -- such as "You Belong With Me" and "Love Story," but like many young performers she displayed a tendency towards self-reverence and shill a bit more than necessary for the applause. And the drum "battle" with one of her female band members during "Should've Said No" is an exercise that should be excised from the show as soon as possible. As Urban ably demonstrated, it's best to let the music do most of the talking.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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