Six strings fuel Urban's
brand of country rock

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune

(Chicago Tribune, Published Feruary 13, 2006


If actress Nicole Kidman's going to marry Keith Urban, she should know he's already in love with someone else: his guitar.

At least that's what it felt like Friday night at the Allstate Arena. The passion between Urban and his guitar was obvious to every one of the 17,0000 fans in the sold-out venue.

Fresh from his Grammy win Wednesday night for best male country vocal performance, Urban electrified the crowd with his high-volume, high-energy guitar solos. That kind of rock 'n' roll spirit may explain some of his crossover appeal.

Unlike peers such as Kenny Chesney or Alan Jackson, he wore no cowboy hat, opting instead for a grungy, long-haired, jeans-and-T-shirt look. Further, Urban's voice bore no resemblance to the twangy, hard-edged voices of other country artists, which also helps make him palatable to the certified non-country fan. As if it were something to be ashamed of, concert-goers were overheard saying "I don't like country music, but I like Keith Urban."

And the number of people who like Urban keep growing. Last year Urban played for only 4,200 at the Rosemont Theatre, and this time he sold out the much larger Allstate in about an hour.

With Urban's reputation as a gifted songwriter, the lyrical expectations were high. But songs are meant to tell stories, and after listening to his 22-song set, it was clear Urban doesn't have many to tell. It boiled down to just two: the happy ones such as "You're My Better Half" and "God's Been Good to Me," and the sad ones, such as "You'll Think of Me" and "Tonight I Wanna Cry."

What he lacked in distinctive song concepts, he made up for with his spirited show. Though Urban may not have the charisma of the other A-listers yet, but he's getting there: At one point, he rode a trapeze (a trick made famous by Garth Brooks) to a stage at the back of the arena where he performed three songs, telling the audience seated there, "Now you guys are in the front row." Later, during his cover of Aerosmith's "What It Takes," Urban let his guitarist and bassist take the lead vocals while he stepped back to play the drums.

No Urban encore would've been complete without "Better Life," his most recent No. 1 single, which he sang withhis Grammy-winning co-writer, Richard Marx.While the audience saw only rare glimpses of his "come-here-baby" smile, Urban did seem to feed off the energy of his fans. He acknowledged folks up front for paying good money (front-row seats were listed on ticket broker sites for around $500 each), and for their homemade signs. At one point, Urban looked over the crowd and said, "Good Lord, look at all these signs. It 's like the most colorful protest I've ever seen."

And yes, Kidman was there, watching the entire show from the soundboard, a baseball cap almost disguising her, were it not for those telltale strawberry blond curls.

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