Keith Urban, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Wednesday 19 October 2005
Urban by name but country rock by nature, raised in Australia but resident in Nashville, Urban has sold millions of records in America and fills football stadiums there. But here in the UK, he's unknown.
Actually, not quite - the Hammersmith Apollo is filled with ecstatic fans of all ages (but mostly over 40), who know every word of his songs. They love him for his country-flavoured rock anthems, heartfelt power ballads and wholesome Christian sentiments. And also, as one middle-aged lady is quick to point out, he's "bloody sexy".
Urban, in his late thirties, is indeed something of a hunk. With his floppy surfer-dude blond hair, androgynous good looks and tight jeans, it's a package that ensures plenty of screaming from the stalls whenever he flexes his beefy biceps.
His records might tread a thin line between slick and bland, with too many glutinous ballads filled with Disneyesque sentiment - the hallmark of modern Nashville - but onstage he's a compelling performer with a confident, engaging presence. It's all a million miles from the false bonhomie of new country stars who proffer down-home blue-collar wisdom before retreating to their mansions to check their investments.
He's also an exceptional guitarist - a talent recognised by superstars Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks, who hired him before he went solo - equally adept picking a banjo on "God's Been Good", strumming his acoustic on "Homespun Love" ("our white-trash trailer-park love song") or indulging in a Hendrix-like electric solo in "You Won" that lasts the best part of five minutes.
Backed by a capable four-piece band, he has a Bono-like habit of paying genre-hopping musical homage in mid-tune, incorporating snatches of Gary Glitter, Dave Edmunds, Thin Lizzy and Dolly Parton. He covers David Dundas's novelty hit "Jeans On" in its entirety, the 1970s nostalgia giving away his target audience.
His forte, though, is countryfied pop-rock anthems like "Days Go By", "Somebody Like You" and "Better Hal" that combine elements of Bryan Adams, John Mellencamp and Bon Jovi. If that's not your thing, you're unlikely to be converted. Otherwise, let's hear it for Aussie and western.
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