For his new tour that launched last week, country star Keith Urban, known for his exceptional live shows, got rid of the barriers.
His stage is a departure from the norm: a rounded front edge with a ramped descent to the crowd and no barricade.
This was one production detail among many that put Urban up close and personal with the crowd when he brought his “Get Closer 2011 World Tour” to St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa last Saturday night. Get Closer, or as Urban says in his Aussie accent “Git Close-uh,” is his latest and seventh solo studio record.
Just before Urban and his four-piece band took the stage, The Beatles’ “A Day In the Life” blared. With the song’s climactic ending, a curtain behind the stage dropped revealing a steel lighting truss that resembled a wild roller-coaster track which lights slid along. A massive round video screen was tucked inside the stage right portion.
A third of the way through the two-hour-plus show, Urban walked out to a tiny round stage, smack in the middle of the floor seats between the main stage and soundboard. From there he performed “Jeans On” and “You’ll Think of Me.” And so went his setlist; a mix of his upbeat toe-tappers and softer ballads, with him switching between electric and acoustic guitars.
For “Kiss A Girl,” Urban plucked five folks from the audience to come up and sing. Little did they know there’d be a friendly “sing off.” A middle-school age looking young man named Austin won over the crowd. He may have lacked inflection, but he made up for it by being prepared. A guy and girl who chose to sing together, and were clearly excited, sounded like a karaoke couple in a bar after last call. After Urban solicited the crowd’s opinion on them, he pointed to them and jokingly declared “Six people loved these guys!” The segment was great fun.
To end the main set, Urban once again took to the crowd for “You Look Good In My Shirt.” He was a few sections away from the stage and about 10 rows up. As Urban sang a verse, a jokester behind him slid a big white cowboy hat onto his head. Yeah, he looked silly as he giggled his way through the lyric before handing the hat back.
Urban then unplugged his guitar, gave it to a young lady and took a little of her breath (the giveaway is a nightly routine). He scooted through the crowd, banged some high fives and slid into an awaiting guitar just in time to shred a solo to end the song.
Two hours into a show, many would grant performers a little leeway with delivery and precision but Urban gave himself none, singing “Tonight I Wanna Cry” as if it was the last time he ever would.
Before the finale, “Better Life,” Urban scanned the arena and genuinely doled out his gratitude. “To the folks in the luxury boxes,” he proclaimed with a smile, “thank you for letting us entertain you m’Lord!,” bowing with excessive melodrama as if he were a Medieval time jester.
Chris Bradshaw is a Bonita Springs-based concert photographer who loves to shoot the show. He’s covered local bands in tiny smoke-filled bars, U2 in a sold out stadium and everything in between.