No surprise: Keith Urban plays right into fans’ hands

The most surprising thing about the Keith Urban concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre on Thursday night? It didn’t rain.

Forecasts earlier in the day had called for a chance of thunderstorms right around show time, and lately – you may have noticed – Mother Nature has doused us every single chance she’s gotten.

But four songs in, with stars twinkling over the lawn, the 45-year-old country singer took note of the bullet his fans seemed to have dodged. “So far, the rain is nowhere in sight,” he announced to cheers. Then, with a nod to the previous night’s headliner at Verizon, who wasn’t so lucky: “I want to thank the Dave Matthews Band for absorbing all the rain.”

Otherwise, Urban’s performance was rather predictable – though I say this with the greatest respect. I’ve now seen Mr. Nicole Kidman four times in the past five years, and each show has essentially been designed and executed the same way.

You know every other song will feature an aggressive guitar solo that lasts 30 to 60 seconds. You know he’ll leave the main stage partway through the set, wade through the aisles to the back of the house, climb onto a mini-stage, and play a few cuts after shouting, “Who’s got the good seats now?” You know he’ll never not play “Kiss a Girl,” “Somebody Like You,” “Better Life,” “Sweet Thing,” “I Told You So,” “Days Go By,” “You’ll Think of Me,” and “You Look Good in My Shirt.”

But as the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Urban was born to play the guitar, and born to dive into aggressive, rock-inspired guitar solos. They probably appear indulgent to nonfans, but to the faithful, seeing him play live is like watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. He picks, he pokes, he pounds, while his body twirls, whirls, and bends over backward.

During “Somebody Like You,” Urban played an ax guitar (one of at least a dozen different types he touched Thursday night) that had a small video camera attached to the headstock and pointed down the fret board; it gave a fascinating, ultra-close-up look at a virtuoso’s finger work.

Frustratingly, the director cut away from that camera far too often, one of a handful of puzzling moments scattered throughout the show.

Others: After Urban ventured back into the crowd during the encore to play “You Look Good in My Shirt,” the giant video screen on the main stage showed him autographing it with a Sharpie, then missed the money shot of him handing it to a fan. When opener Dustin Lynch emerged to join the headliner for “Kiss a Girl,” there were a couple of awkward moments where he seemed like he didn’t know when exactly to jump in. And Urban didn’t seem to have his usual command of the sing-alongs; there were times when he pointed his mike at the crowd mid-verse (as opposed to mid-chorus) only to hear just a handful of people singing back.

Still, this is picking nits. Truly, his live performances are to country-pop what the Foo Fighters’ are to rock: fun, energetic, loud, and – as always – very, very fan-friendly.

He always high-fives everyone who extends a hand. He always hugs kids. He always signs a few autographs. He always accepts flowers.

Early on, Urban spotted a bedsheet with words written on it in the crowd near the stage. “What’s your sign say?” he asked. It was a little bunched up, and tough to read. The fan straightened it out to reveal: “My first concert! Come see me!”

So – to the surprise of almost no true Keith Urban fan – he did.