The Garth Brooks World Tour At the Prudential Center, Friday, December 1st, 2017, Reviewed
“Stay Calm And Carry A Gun,” were the words written on a fan’s tee shirt at the Prudential Center. Funny? Sure. It was funny before the dystopian nightmare of the Trump administration left us with very little and conservatives as well as Conservatives incapable of discerning where their self-interest lay, brought us down this path. I considered the Red States, Republicans, an odd aberration who I could join with on, more or less, foreign policy and country music. I found it exotic and quaint. On the eve of 2018, the USA terrifies me and while I don’t blame Garth Brooks for this, I sure blame his audience: these loud, noxious, over weight, over simplified yahoos who cheer the country on to nuclear annihilation. To quote someone I will be seeing later today, that joke isn’t funny any more.
I still love the music.
Brooks is the best selling album artist in US history, throughout his career he has released six albums that have gone diamond (as in 10 Million copies sold), mixing mainstream rock and roll stylings with 1980s style country, he reinvented pop in his own image. When he felt his family needed him to, he retired from touring for fourteen years, till this tour I caught last night which began in 2014 and ends next week and will end being the most popular tour of all time: it made double the money of first runner up, U2’s “360 tour”. With his wife, the estimable Trisha Yearwood, and band members that have been with him since his first album, Brooks reached the Prudential with his air traffic controller microphone and boundless energy and provided the audience with a masterclass in arena rock. In an open area, which allowed him to sell behind the stage, he travelled the entire stage, going where man feared to tread, in an unerring attempt to connect back with fake but sweet rabble rousing, “people you don’t realize what you just did… (they cheered a new song). With some folks there is hits and filler, upbeat and downscale, Brooks has no down button, whether singing ballads or twangy anthems, Brooks and his band were right on the money for the entire 135 minutes. A band so strong Garth and Trisha SEPARATELY introduced them.
The set was one long highlight, very early he backed up “Rodeo” (thinking of the late great Chris LeDoux, no doubt) followed by the best song Jimmy Buffett never wrote “Two Pina Coladas”. A little later he sang a heartfelt “The River” and then stopped me cold with a n astonishing take on Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” wringing every ounce of feeling from that “I’d go hungry;I’d go black and blue and I’d go crawling down the avenue” and he really savoured it. Garth savoured all his moments like that, he pushed them towards us like sophomore signals of signs and designs. Sure it’s all show biz, and Garth’s shouts of “people” can get a bit much after awhile, but when he sets out mid set to find the woman who placed some flowers on the stage -that wasn’t show biz schtick.
The kiss cam at the end of Trisha Yearwood’s four song blow out was also show biz but if the tribute to her mother who died from cancer (and for whom she goes on 60 mile charity walks every year) “Prizefighter” (so moving for all of us who have lost someone we love to cancer) is feigned you coulda fooled me. Trisha sang two of the evening’s best songs, “XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)” and the flawless and perfect “She’s in Love With the Boy”. I’d love to see her perform an entire concert one of these days.
Garth’s highlight came soon after, a foot stomping, Prudential rattling, heads down hoe down “Friends In Low Places,” handing the third verse to the audience and listening to em run with it. It was another great moment in an evening o f 135 minutes of effortless arena country rock. The mood in Jersey, his second performance in the state in 25 years (he didn’t play New York City once on his 321 date, three year tour!) was celebratory and if my mind was on the state of the union, Jersey’s certainly wasn’t. Let’s hope what politics has rendered suspect, country music can repair. Till then, stay calm and shove your guns up your ass.