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Review: Keith Urban dazzles Tampa fans, honors Orlando victims at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre

18

June

You can thank the almighty for the mighty set Keith Urban laid down in Tampa Friday night.

"I woke up on the bus this morning here, and it was pouring rain," he told the crowd of 16,000 at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater. "I was like, Dear God, please send this torrential storm away. And it's a beautiful night. Doesn't always work like that, but I'm glad it did tonight."

He played like it. For two relentless hours, Urban dazzled the audience with his patented propulsive road anthems and signature guitar wizardry, plus some surprises and heartfelt moments in between.

Among them: A touching solo rendition of U2's One to kick off the encore, in honor of the victims of last weekend's Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

“Although I didn’t know anybody in that horrific incident, I did, because they’re just guys and girls, brothers and sisters,” he said. “They had dreams, hopes, plans, just like every one of us.”

There were signs of Orlando’s influence outside the amphitheater, where fans went through bag searches, wanding and a boosted police presence a couple hundred feet before they even reached Will Call. These new security changes, venue officials said, are permanent.

But inside, it was just another rocking Friday night at the Amp. Urban wasn’t shy about getting up close and personal with fans, bringing a 16-year-old birthday girl on stage for a rendition of Happy Birthday, and roaming the audience en route to an electrifying B-stage set. Opener Brett Eldredge even got in on the fun, bringing a couple up for a marriage proposal during Mean To Me.

"We're feeling the love tonight," Eldredge said. "All y'all matter. This is a big night."

Chiseled and rock-star-styled at 48 (no, Keith, YOU look good in your shirt), Urban still does one thing better than any other country star, and that’s churn out four-on-the-floor adrenaline-pumpers like Days Go By, Somewhere In My Car, Somebody Like You and Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me. New hit Wasted Time, in that sense, might be the ultimate Keith Urban song, a balance of banjo breakdowns and big rock choruses so perfectly calibrated for the end of the night that Urban had to punctuate it with a shower of confetti.

Such an effortless rush was each of these songs that anytime Urban dialed the drive back just a little – the poignant But For the Grace of God, the bluesy slow-dancer Blue Ain’t Your Color, the jaunty disco-pop of We Were Us (performed with opener Maren Morris) and The Fighter (featuring video of Carrie Underwood) – the house energy couldn't help but ebb. (Exception: Cop Car, a big, glistening slab of Bon Jovi arena balladry that saw tons of fans singing along.)

But there were plenty of songs where the pure rocker Urban has always flirted with becoming shone through – his Zeppelin-goes-New-Wave opener Gone Tomorrow (Here Today); his feral, fret-ripping rocker Where the Blacktop Ends; his squealing, Claptonian riffs at the end of Gettin’ In the Way; his bouncy buzzsaw Good Thing, making its tour debut.

Even the goofy John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 got a gonzo makeover, with Urban meandering all over the place – playing bass, kinda-sorta freestyling (“I don’t know the words / I don’t know the words to my own damn song”) and splicing in snippets of John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane, Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry, Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line and the Police’s So Lonely.

And never let it be said Urban doesn’t play to the cheap-seaters. The lawn got arguably the best view of the night when Urban brought his A game to the B stage, where he gave a guitar to a stunned young girl in the front row during You Look Good in My Shirt and brought Eldredge up for a fantastically fun Somebody Like You and Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me.

Eldridge, hyperactive hunk that he is, more than held his own as the evening's middleman, heartily engaging front-row fans with the easy charisma of a guy who could’ve won American Idol. Like Urban, Eldredge hopped genres with ease, from the barreling alt-rock of Shadow to the Al Green-influenced Time Well Spent to the funky You Can't Stop Me, which morphed into a cover of Daft Punk's Get Lucky. He was unafraid to let his soulful voice run on Wanna Be That Song and Drunk On Your Love, during which he flung roses to the crowd.

Kicking off the evening in shades and sparkly shorts was new-school Nashville cat Morris, just a couple of weeks after dropping her great debut album Hero. Her crowd-pleasing hit My Church may name-drop Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, but with her casual swagger and low, confident, just-off-cadence delivery, Morris sounded more like Rihanna, especially on the spunky Sugar and smooth Once. If there's any justice, the flirty rocker '80s Mercedes will be the pop-country crossover hit of the summer.

Both Eldridge and Morris are direct beneficiaries of the path Urban cut through country music: Left-of-center talents who don't exactly adhere to Nashville conventions. If they can follow in his footsteps as live performers (Eldredge is close; Morris has a ways to go), country music’s going to be a lot of fun for years to come.

By the end of the night, Urban was soaked in sweat and down to a tank top as he thanked the crowd with a benedictory farewell.

"Be good to yourself, be good to each other; be good to your sister, be good to your brother," he said. "God bless."

On this dry, lively night, He did.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Saturday, June 18, 2016 2:03am]

    

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