The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is up and running in the ol’ hometown, and I made my traditional pre-SXSW visit to Reliant Stadium on St. Patrick’s Day, joining 60,000 green-clad Texans and my gratuitous-turquoise-jewelry-laden mother to pet cows, watch chicks hatch, eat foods God never intended (today: baked potato smothered in brisket), cheer on some steer wrestlers, and cap it all off with a performance from country music superstar Keith Urban.
First time seeing the Aussie in person, though I’ve long enjoyed his hyper style – I like how he’s always at a banjo-pickin’ clip, it’s real jaunty – and I heartily endorse his thetan-free marriage to Nicole Kidman, who we discovered was in the building tonight when he opened “Making Memories of Us” with a dedication to her. Cue gasps and heads turning left and right, as though Nicole Kidman would be just hanging out behind the bull chutes in a bedazzled vest and pink Ropers for all to see. She wasn’t. But follow me after the jump anyway, as Keith Urban did something tonight that I’ve never seen another rodeo performer try – and yes, that does include Garth Brooks, George Strait, and late-80’s-era Huey Lewis. Suspense!
Save for the usual drunk B.F.F. girls swaying arm-in-arm with Bud Lights held high, most in attendance stayed seated for Urban’s hour-long greatest-hits set, and recent chart-topper “Sweet Thing” was the only nod he made to the upcoming release of Defying Gravity. This was basically a warmup gig for his his summer tour, and since most rodeo guests struggle somewhat with the 50 yards of soul-crushing, bull-ridden dirt between the rotating stage and the nearest audience member, I’ll forgive Urban’s rocky start: a lackluster “Days Go By” drifted into a flubbed “You’re My Better Half,” and no one was singing when he asked them to. The great Irish fiddle of “I Told You So” picked things up a bit, but it was the always-moving “Stupid Boy” when he settled in, bending and caressing his guitar to elicit sounds as passionate as his vocals, flipping his pick through his fingers like a poker chip. His guitar prowess is, as promised, completely staggering live – yet, in my opinion, nothing I saw tonight was anywhere near as self-indulgent as live guitar prowess tends to be. Perhaps this is because he was singing and soloing simultaneously, or perhaps the floppy hair and all the whooping make it seem effortless. (Note to John Mayer: Maybe try whooping more?)
Finally, in conclusion, and to sum up, this was a decent performance that wouldn’t be memorable save for one unbelievable moment of showmanship: At the top of “You Look Good In My Shirt,” Keith Urban went rogue, climbed down from the stage, and began to jog a lap around Reliant with a cameraman, guitar tech, and mic stand-toting roadie huffing along beside him. I am still not sure how he managed to get through the entire song without everything collapsing into chaos, but his routine went something like, “play guitar, grab mic from stand, sing verse, high-five crowd, put mic back in stand, play guitar, duck head to accept strings of St. Patty’s Day beads from fans, hand guitar to tech in order to climb the railing of stands and bury self in pile of screaming girls, reclaim guitar over top of railing, have audience member hold mic, sing more, hand guitar back, climb through railing and flip to ground, resume running…” My mother and I – with easily 30 rodeos between us – cannot remember another performer ever taking off on a tear like that. It was legitimately exhilarating, and once he returned to the stage, disentangled himself from a wad of shiny green necklaces, and sat down for the passionate yet restrained double punch of “…Memories” and “You’ll Think of Me,” it was enough to convince me that one of these days, I need to see this guy work a room that didn’t just host a calf scramble.
Were any of you H-town PopWatchers there this evening? What did you think? Anyone care to report from one of the other acts HLSR has hosted? Like, how were the Jonas Brothers? And because ACM fan voting just opened, and I know this will start a fight: Who’s your entertainer of the year, Urban or Chesney? I’m not saying I’ve got an opinion. I just wonder if Chesney would have run that lap.