Garth Brooks brings back the 'howdy!'

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to the Tribune
Published in the Chicago Tribune on November 7, 2007


Turns out, it is just like riding a bike.

For Garth Brooks, anyway. The art of entertaining is not something he's forgotten, even after a 10-year hiatus. That self-induced retirement came to an end Monday night at Kansas City's Sprint Center. In the first of nine sold-out shows, Brooks, 45, was every bit the country music ambassador he was in his heyday.

Back in 1997, Brooks gave Chicago a similar run: eight days at the Allstate Arena. This time, his goal was not to just put on a show but to promote his 3-disc boxed set, "The Ultimate Hits," which hit stores Tuesday.

From his full-throated growl on "Rodeo" to the gospel vibrato he throws into "We Shall Be Free" to the faux twang he pulls out on "Friends in Low Places," Brooks' voice was the signature sound that felt like comfort food to the fans who traveled from all over the country to see him.

Not that you could hear all the nuances of his voice with the raucous crowd screaming along to every word. Brooks is a humble megalomaniac, appearing to expect the crowd's adoration, but also clearly moved by the outpouring of love. "I didn't know what to expect. But in my longest hopes it wasn't this good," he gushed.

The set list, a two-hour onslaught of contemporary tunes that changed the face of country music almost overnight in the '90s, covered everything from his earliest "Much Too Young" to his newest "More Than A Memory." Even the rapid-fire hook on "Papa Loved Mama" seem to come naturally to him. And when he resurrected older tunes like "Unanswered Prayers," the band left Brooks and his acoustic guitar alone onstage. "Even though I only use the guitar to hide my gut," he said, "I can still play."

And musically, the sound hasn't wavered much. It's a '70s singer-songwriter sensibility fused with western swing, thanks to his 10-piece band, including longtime members Jimmy Mattingly on fiddle and Bruce Boughton on steel guitar.

The last night of the Kansas City run (Nov. 14) will be simulcast in 300 theaters around the country. Check Fathomevents.com for details.

Earlier in the day, the Recording Industry Association of America officially recognized Brooks as the best-selling solo artist in American music history, shipping 123 million albums in the U.S.

---------- ctc-tempo@tribune.com Copyright 2007, Chicago Tribune

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