Keith Urban - Ak-Chin Pavilion - 9/29/13

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His opening acts hit all the country notes, but Keith Urban himself is something different--he's the kind of country act who will not shock when his second song is an extended jazzy improvisation (or pseudo-improvisation) that facilitates his flirting with fans, asking them section by section to cheer, reading signs, and ultimately bringing particularly creative fans up on the stage. (The winning sign-owner, Lisa, was with a friend who'd survived cancer; surviving cancer, more than Keith Urban, got the biggest pop of the night.)

Keith Urban and his band are playing country-flavored music because it's what they grew up with, probably, and because it's a place where highly competent and not especially young white guys have big hits. But there's not a lot that separates these songs from their nearest non-country equivalents.

Live, especially, with most of the polish escaping into the air over Ak-Chin Pavilion before it hits the lawn and the particularly twangy guitar parts muffled by the electric lead, it's surprisingly difficult to tell what Keith Urban is playing apart from, say, The Fray.

That's not a compliment or a putdown; it just is what it is. The opening act mentioned Jesus and the south, but Urban, who's from a little further south still, kept things broader, singing well-crafted, dynamic pop rock with a vaguer implementation of the same doing-the-right-thing beats. I'm a bit of a country neophyte, and that might have actually made it easier for me to enjoy this--it hit the same part of me that digs the ruthless, calculated pop on Phil Collins' solo albums.

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Dan Moore