American Airlines Center, Dallas
Thursday, September 17, 2015
Twenty years of building anticipation is generally a recipe for a pretty electric evening, especially when you’re talking about one of country music’s most talented entertainers. After nearly that long away from Dallas, Garth Brooks’ week-long slate of concerts has whipped our city fans into a frenzy. After selling 100,000 tickets in record time, the anticipation mounted: Would Garth Brooks be able to live up to the record-shattering performance that he gave at Reunion Arena in 1998?
As he stepped onto the stage of the American Airlines Center, just a quick walk away from where the now-demolished Reunion Arena once stood, it was clear that Brooks wasn’t just planning to live up to those expectations; he was planning to shatter them. Behind a screen, Brooks’ silhouette was enough to generate deafening applause from the crowd of nearly 20,000 fans that had assembled there that evening. Whether or not they were at his last run of shows here 17 years ago — or even alive — everyone in that building last night knew that they were in for a real treat.
Brooks opened the evening with an energetic version of “Man Against Machine,” the title track from his 2014 comeback album. But no one was there to listen to anything that Brooks had recorded since about 1996 — a fact that Brooks himself acknowledged — which is why the crowd erupted once again as he launched into the twangy, cowboy-inspired track “Rodeo.” The 1991 track was still very much fresh in the memory of this crowd, who sang along to every word without missing a beat. This sing-a-long, encouraged on more than one occasion by Brooks, would continue throughout the night — and, somewhat surprisingly, there were some pretty damn good singers in the room.
As he wound through more of his charting-topping faves, including “Full House,” “The River” and “Two Pina Coladas,” it was obvious that this opening show of Brooks’ five-night stand in Dallas was going to be something special. Vocally, Brooks is still at the top of his game, and his energy on stage is unparalleled. No matter how many times Luke Bryan hits the dougie on stage or Sam Hunt tries to show off his Nae Nae, they’ll never be the explosive, energetic showman that Brooks is. Perhaps no one ever will.
About two-thirds of the way through the evening, Brooks was joined by his equally talented and radiant wife, Trisha Yearwood. Yearwood has been touring with her husband since last year, and adds notes of poignancy and an impressive vocal talent. Yearwood played a five-song set, including a performance of “Walkaway Joe,” which she said was requested by a fan. Brooks joined Yearwood for an intimate duet performance of this song, one of Yearwood’s most commercially successful.
Yearwood struggled some with the high notes on “How Do I Live?” but for the most part her short set was technically sound and moving in many moments. As she wrapped up, the adoration in Brooks’ eyes for his wife had plenty of folks in the crowd a little choked up. In the end, you almost sort of forgave Brooks for (supposedly) dumping his first wife for Trisha — a perception that many country music fans, especially women, still hold to this day. The two are obviously very much in love in their 10th year of marriage, and have an impeccable musical chemistry.
Once Yearwood turned the stage back over to Brooks, it became clear that this first night’s crowd may have gotten the best that Brooks has to offer. As he continues through the next six performances, including two “double headers” on Friday and Saturday, he’ll have to work hard to maintain that level of energy. Vocally, there’s no doubt that Brooks will have to rely on more of that crowd singing along as the shows progress. But who knows; this is a man who played eleven shows in both Minneapolis and Chicago, so perhaps he’s up to the challenge.
It was the second half of Brooks’ show that contained most of his biggest (and best) songs, including “Friends In Low Places,” which is still (and will always be) one of country music’s greatest drinking songs. His “favorite song of all time to perform,” “Calling Baton Rouge,” was so up-tempo that Brooks barely held on to his breath has he darted across the 360-degree stage to hit all points of the crowd. It was this gratitude that was so pervasive through the night, coloring every single moment of Brooks’ performance. He put every single ounce of his heart and soul into his performance last night, from climbing on top of the drummer’s “gerbil cage” like he’s still in the damn rodeo, to the buckets of sweat and tears that he left all over that stage. More than once, Brooks told the crowd in Dallas that he was “nervous” and “scared” to come back here, because this is the place where everything started for him.
Brooks, long known as a “man of the people,” is as dedicated to fan experience as ever. His unrelenting energy aside, he's an artist who feeds off of the people in the crowd having a really good time and singing along. He seemed particularly impressed by the number of young people in the audience, so many of whom knew his earliest work by heart. After a 20-plus year career in country music, Brooks is still undoubtedly country music’s most talented, hardest-working performer.
As it turns out, Dallas was equally grateful to have Brooks back in town. After his long hiatus, there were plenty of fans here that had never seen Brooks in concert, largely because they were still in diapers (or at least grade school) the last time he rolled through town. “I’ve never heard any place in Dallas or Texas get as loud as you are right now,” beamed Brooks, taking Dallas’ affection to heart as he continued to rollick through his set. By the time that he’d finished “The Dance,” the final track of his set, Brooks’ eyes were welled with tears of gratitude.
When he finally did step off the stage after a grueling two-and-a-half hours, the crowd was in no way ready for Brooks to be finished. At many other stops on his tour, Brooks has played a variety of covers and saved some of his more popular tracks for the encore. In Dallas, that didn’t really seem to be the case. Brooks returned to play his adaptation of Aerosmith’s “Fever” and “Much Too Young,” a track that dates back to his debut album in 1989.
Brooks ended the evening with “We Shall Be Free,” a particularly high note. The lyrics of this tear-jerker, which touch on racial inequality, disability and hunger, were particularly poignant in today’s political climate, especially from typically bombastic (and often offensive) country musicians. This song, apolitical in nature, veers sharply away from polarization and pandering, instead choosing to uplift and empower and bring people together, as sappy as that may sound. As he thrust his hand into the sky with yet more gratitude, though, it didn’t feel sappy at all. Brooks may not belong to Texas, but he’s certainly got a home here. He's welcome to stop by anytime.