in performance: garth brooks/trisha yearwood

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garth brooks performing at rupp arena on friday. he played a total of four concerts there this weekend. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

“You better slow things down,” said Garth Brooks last night to the third of the four Rupp Arena audiences he played to this weekend. “Some of you are a little older than the last time we were here.”

At 52, age seemed to be no impediment to the country star with his initial Saturday show clocking in at 2 ¼ hours. While he appeared understandably but unapologetically winded after several songs, the brisk pace of the performance, his vocal might and, most of all, a stage persona fortified by an almost childlike giddiness never wavered.

What was his answer to slowing things down? Try a jubilant version of the 1993 motormouth hit Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up). It wasn’t until the solo acoustic reading of 1990’s Unanswered Prayers, where the audience essentially sang the song back to him, that Brooks allowed himself anything resembling a breather.

The apparent differences between this outing and Friday’s shows were minute. In terms of the setlist, the only adjustments came from allowing Trisha Yearwood a slightly longer cameo set in the middle of the concert (one that gave her time to fit in Georgia Rain and She’s in Love With the Boy), while Brooks saved Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) and the Kenny Chesney-friendly Two Pina Coladas for the end of the show. He also snuck in acoustic revisions of Alabama Clay and The Change as encores.

What was different was the audience tally. Box office estimates for Friday were 19,000 for the first performance and 14,000 for the late show. As expected, last night’s numbers were higher – 21,000 for the early concert and 20,000 for the second.

Through it all, Brooks served as much as a cheerleader of his show as he did as the star, ripping through the more traditional country flavored Rodeo and The Beaches of Cheyenne with the same vigor he gave to his hit covers of Billy Joel’s Shameless and especially Aerosmith’s The Fever.

It was also great to see Leitchfield fiddler Jimmy Mattingly back onstage with Brooks (since his last Rupp show with the singer in 1998, he co-founded the popular bluegrass band The Grascals). A strong instrumental presence for the entire concert, Mattingly was the Cajun-inspired catalyst for the festive encore of Callin’ Baton Rouge.

The only real misstep was the show’s contrived Terminator-esque opening, which was set to the bland title tune from Brooks’ forthcoming Man Against Machine album. For a production seemingly steeped in performance humility (the singer at one point admitted the acoustic guitar he played was mostly a prop to “hide my gut”), the Matrix-style hijinx just seemed silly.

Luckily, by the time Brooks and band were knee deep in the honky tonk charm of Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House two songs later, the machines of the future were at bay as the country comfort of Brooks’ mega-popular past moved in to stay.



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