Entertainment

Urban has his crowd-pleasing routine down pat

Keith Urban does pretty much the same show city after city, tour after tour, year after year.

On Friday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, he put on - with a few exceptions - a concert that looked and felt a lot like the one he performed in the same venue almost exactly two years ago.

The 43-year-old country star interspersed his many chart-topping country hits with a few new cuts, as usual. He waded through an ecstatic crowd to a tiny stage about 20 rows back and shouted the same exact words he uttered here in 2009: "Who's got the good seats now??" And toward the end of the evening, he forged a path up into the lower level to sing part of a song, then suddenly signed his guitar and handed it to a stunned fan. (Urban did this last time in Charlotte, and best I can tell does it every single show.)

If it sounds like I'm complaining, I'm not. It's a winning formula, and the man obviously doesn't want to mess with something that works.

So fans got what they came for: an energetic, 2-hour-and-12-minute set filled with Urban trademarks including rapturous sing-a-longs, fun-loving real-time crowd shots, and soaring guitar solos that would impress Eddie Van Halen. Put it this way: Opener Jake Owen had to implore concertgoers to get their butts out of their seats; when Urban emerged at around 8:45, virtually everyone stood up, and then didn't sit down again until they climbed into their cars to go home.

The Charlotte show was the second of three Carolinas shows on back-to-back-to-back nights. He was in Columbia, S.C., Thursday, and will play Raleigh tonight. It's a special weekend for Urban - he and his famous wife, Nicole Kidman, celebratefive years of marriage today. (He plans to fly back to Nashville to be with her after the Raleigh show.)

His 22-song set list contained one dedicated to the actress - No. 1 hit "Without You" - and several more of his biggest tracks, ranging from ballads like the heartwarming "Only You Can Love Me This Way" and the weepy "Making Memories of Us" to fist-pumpers like "Days Go By" and "Somebody Like You."

Urban always has and probably always will deliver a different breed of country. Sure, there were cowboy boots everywhere on Friday night, but - and I'm breaking no new ground by saying this - his shows really do feel like rock concerts.

He'll brush off the notion if you mention it, but this guy uses many axes (I lost count after about six, long before he played a neon-light-studded electric during "Who Wouldn't Want to Be Me?") to play chords and riffs that literally will give you chills. You won't get this from his studio albums. You need to see him wail away on the guitar live. It's like watching a great artist paint, or a master chef cook.

It's hard to pinpoint the night's best moment. Maybe it was seeing him pull three fans onstage and having them each belt out the chorus of his best song (my opinion), "Kiss a Girl," in the night's funniest. Maybe it was seeing the girl smiling through her sobs on the tail end of "You Look Good in My Shirt," in the night's most touching moment, after Urban handed her that autographed guitar. Maybe it was the closing number in the rousing encore, "Better Life," which climaxed as confetti and red, white and blue streamers blanketed the front part of the floor section.

"Better Life" also was used as the final song here in 2009. But I didn't hear anyone complaining.

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