Keith Urban brought the house down Nov. 1 at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, keeping most of the 11,558 there on their feet during his two-hour-plus performance. The concert also featured Kelsea Ballerini, one of country music’s hottest up-and-comers.
About midway through Urban’s Central Arkansas stop on his “Graffiti U World Tour,” an audience member behind us remarked, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know he could play like that.”
“That,” in this case, referring to his incredible guitar skills. Unquestionably, he’s a virtuoso performer on the instrument he began playing as a child in Australia. And while we admit we failed miserably at trying to keep up with how many times he changed guitars, we totally succeeded at appreciating and enjoying his prowess at making those strings sing.
His guitar expertise is matched by his talent for engaging with and enjoying his audience. Early into his set, Urban commented on the number of homemade signs being held up by audience members, and he used binoculars and then a spotlight to help him read some of them.
One read, “Nothing can stop me from meeting you except” on one side and “your bodyguard and my husband” on the other. Amused, Urban proceeded to bring the young couple — a Britney and Jesse from Jackson, Tenn. — onstage to not only meet him, but to pose for a photo and get a hug or two. He later gave another young lady one of his guitars after making his way through the audience to sing on a small stage in the back of the arena. We’re pretty sure he probably does all that every show, but that didn’t stop it from being fun and effective and certainly endearing himself to a crowd that already loved him.
Of course, the four-time Grammy Award winner also pleased with his vocal ability. Shortly after opening with “Never Comin’ Down” and “Days Go By,” Urban delighted the crowd with a verse of the Collin Raye hit “Little Rock.” The singer-songwriter-guitarist-country rocker leaned toward rock most of the night, but a highlight was the story song “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” a big hit for him from his album “Ripcord,” and one that showcases his honest delivery.
He dedicated “Female” to his mom, had the crowd singing the lyrics back to him on “Somebody Like You” and also included hits like “Long Hot Summer,” “Stupid Boy” and the catchy “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.”
Along the way Urban not only introduced his band members, but gave them a little time in the spotlight, including Nathan Barlowe, who also stood out on guitar.
Urban brought Ballerini out to join him on the fine duet “We Were Us,” and he sang “The Fighter” with Carrie Underwood, who appeared on a video screen.
Speaking of collaboration, another highlight of the evening was when he brought out Rebecca and Megan Lovell of the Atlanta-based rock band Larkin Poe. Talk about rocking the house. The sisters demonstrated they could hold their own with the country superstar on “Where the Blacktop Ends.”
Urban saved his first No. 1 hit “But for the Grace of God” for his encore along with “Horses.” He returned to the stage for those two songs sporting another different guitar, one he was obviously proud to own because, as he told his fans, it once belonged “to the late, great Waylon Jennings.”
Thanks to hits like “Dibs” and “Peter Pan,” Ballerini, 25, has already established herself enough to be nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year in the upcoming Country Music Association awards. She sang both of those in her 11-song set and also managed to dish out the evening’s most clever lyrics on the witty ballad, “I Hate Love Songs.”
That’s the one that starts with the line “I hate Shakespeare and Gosling and cakes with white frosting.” Kind of fun to hear that one from an artist who makes a living singing love songs, although you could make the case it’s a love song as well. Ballerini also pleased with her hit “Love Me Like You Mean It,” which she co-wrote, and a fine cover of the Fleetwood Mac standard “Landslide” that featured her on guitar.