The most asked question among fans at any Garth Brooks concert has to be “Have you seen Garth before?”
Answer, “No. First time.” And you get the same one-sentence review.
“It’s the best show you’ll ever see.”
That’s a bold statement, especially to someone who has seen hundreds of bands of various genres playing at dozens of venues on stages both open and intimate.
Best ever is a big promise. It’s one that Brooks and his fans lived up to on opening night of a three-night stint at Save Mart Center.
The country icon made the call early into his two-hour-plus house set – this was the best opening night he’s had, he said. In any city. Ever.
He repeated the claim multiple times through the night as he ran, jumped and climbed his way around the stage, playing through the hits (“Friends in Low Places,” “The Thunder Rolls,” “Rodeo”) a couple of deep cuts as requested by fans (“The Red Strokes,” “Lonesome Dove,” “That Ol’ Wind”) and a few covers (from Keith Whitley, Merle Haggard and Billy Joel).
It couldn’t hurt that this was also the night Brooks found out he had been awarded his seventh diamond record – a demarcation given to albums that have sold more than 10 million copies. The number puts him in a league all his own.
He had been tied at six with the Beatles.
For its part, the crowd filled the Save Mart Center to the rafters and kept the noise level at a full-on Beatlemania roar the whole night. During the quieter moments (and a few of the more raucous ones) the crowd drowned out the music on stage.
It quieted only slightly when Trisha Yearwood took over to perform choice cuts from her catalog, including “How Do I Live,” “She’s in Love With the Boy” and “Prizefighter,” which she sang as a tribute to those fighting cancer. It was one of the most powerful moments of the night – one Brooks promised at the pre-show news conference.
Obviously, whether Brooks puts on the best show ever comes down to personal preference. For fans there is no question. You can’t deny his personality, stage presence or seemingly limitless energy. Here is a guy who is not afraid to show his emotions, even if it disrupts a song. There were moments Brooks missed a word or two. He was visibly awed by the crowd.
Mostly the singer – and the backing band … heck, even the crowd – seemed overcome by pure, unbridled screaming energy.
There’s an image of Garth Brooks I had in mind going into the show, having never seen him before.
It’s the one that sticks with me now.
He’s there in the spotlight, guitar raised in one hand, sweat dripping from his head, which is thrown back in a scream of triumph and joy for having put on the best show ever.
▪ I somehow deleted the notes file on my phone, so I am recreating the show in my head. But I am certain Brooks recognized me from the news conference and gave me a quick shout-out from the stage.
▪ There were three opening acts (Mitch Rossell, Karyn Rochelle and Joe Nichols) doing quick sets. The show started late and ran long, which didn’t bother the crowd in the least, but doesn’t bode well for Saturday night’s doubleheader ending anytime before 2 a.m.
▪ Rochelle was quick to point out the obvious.
“You’re all looking at me like, ‘Who the hell is this woman up here?’ ”
We know now. She delivered a short but powerful set of great traditional country tunes.
▪ Nichols covered “Baby Got Back” and “Okie From Muskogee,” which pretty much encapsulates current country music.
▪ Brooks has a serious backing band. It was a treat to watch them interact with the fans and each other.
▪ I almost hate to write this, but sitting on the floor, in the center of the stage, makes all the difference.
▪ Did I mention that Brooks gave me a shout-out from the stage?