It’s about songs.
You can be as beautiful as Beyonce, as desirable as Angelina Jolie, and it won’t mean shit in this business unless your songs are good. You can create atmospheric music that will garner you a sizable audience, but if you want to break through and stay there you’ve got to have a stable of singable songs. Stuff your audience sings along with in the car, that they break into when amongst friends. That’s what bonds us to you, why we love you so much, those songs. And we love the version you’ve laid down on wax. But what truly gets us off, makes us feel totally alive, is hearing you perform these songs live.
If you think the audience wants perfect recreations of the studio recordings, you’re wrong. You can go into the extravaganza business, with million dollar sets and music on hard drive, but what we truly want is a bit of humanity, to make us feel not so alone.
The opening act last night was Lady Antebellum, sitting in for an ailing Sugarland. They covered "You Shook Me All Night Long" and "Boys Of Summer". If AC/DC were starting off today would they have to go country? The Eagles ARE country. The Nashville market is the last bastion of real music. Actual songs played on real instruments. And that’s what you got with Keith Urban, real music.
On one hand it hearkens all the way back to the sixties and seventies, all the way back to the Allman Brothers. Keith Urban’s shirt had a few sparkles in it, but everybody in the band, including the front man, could walk down the street unnoticed, other than for their fame. They looked like you. And me. Only they could do what we cannot…PLAY!
They started with "Hit The Ground Runnin’", from the new album. Which sounded better live. There’s a sterility in the studio takes. But the songs had energy in Staples, they were like a well-worn pair of jeans, they were broken in, they were suddenly attractive.
And Keith played most of ‘em. That’s the way it was and still is in the country world. A fan can’t miss a tour, some of these songs from the new album might never be performed again.
But as much as I enjoyed the new material, the classics blew my mind.
Early in the set, "Stupid Boy", with even more force than the original.
And, of course, "Raining On Sunday".
But the killer was "You’ll Think Of Me"…
"I woke up early this morning around four a.m.
With the moon shining bright as headlights on the Interstate
I pulled the covers over my head and tried to catch some sleep
But thoughts of us kept keeping me awake"
You can eventually fall asleep, after watching late night TV, catching up on that boring book, but you can’t STAY asleep. Suddenly, you’re startled awake. You look over to the alarm clock, praying it’s late enough to get out of bed. But it’s not. It’s still the middle of the night. You can’t get up now. You’ve got to lie in bed, reviewing your life, trying to figure it out until you fall back asleep. To awake again, sans enough shuteye, to face the day.
Ever since you found yourself in someone else’s arms
I’ve been trying my best to get along
Sometimes you don’t even know if there’s anybody else. They’ve been distant and secretive for far too long. You may share the same bed, but you’re living separate lives. But even if they don’t leave you for someone else, eventually they find a new love. And you just can’t cope with it. They don’t know her the way you do. It’s like your life has ended. Until it begins again. Which is such a painful process, starting over.
Take your records, take your freedom
Take your memories, I don’t need ‘em
The splitting up of assets. How come they always take something treasured of yours and leave something indelible of theirs behind? Are they that eager to leave? Do you call them, try to retrieve what’s rightfully yours, or let it go? The call alone is too painful. They’re too cheery, or dealing with you as if you’re an untouchable.
Take your space and take your reasons
But you’ll think of me
And take your cat and leave my sweater
We have nothing left to weather
In fact I’ll feel a whole lot better
But you’ll think of me, you’ll think of me
And they do. But they don’t come back. Something you did, something you are is such that they can’t come back. Sometimes you don’t even know what it is. They left eons ago, you just found out.
Someday I’m gonna run across your mind
But don’t worry, I’ll be fine
I’m gonna be all right
While you’re sleeping with your pride
Wishing I could hold you tight
I’ll be over you
And on with my life
They tell me breakups are equal, that both desired it. I’ve never heard such hogwash in my life. Somebody always wants it more. If you’re on the losing end, it’s okay to be vindictive, if you don’t own your anger it’ll just play out in your next relationship.
I wish I was never left. I wish no one ever left you. It’s almost impossible to recover from. You can no longer trust. But once you recover, however long that takes, you’ve gone through a character-building experience. You’re strong at the broken places.
I love being exhilarated at a concert. But I also want to be touched. I want to stand and sing along at the top of my lungs, those songs I’ve heard on my computer, on my iPod, that stopped me in my tracks.
There was a hi-def screen, which moved like the lighting trusses of old. Very cool.
Keith played his guitar while walking to a makeshift stage at the back of the arena, stating "Who’s got the good seats now?" when he arrived at the less than prime seats.
And there were tons of people back there. No one can sell out the upper deck at Staples. It’s just not worth it. To camp out above the three decks of skyboxes, to be reminded that you’re not privileged, better off watching the video screens than the action on stage. But last night people needed to be inside, they needed to be there.
The whole business has inverted. Songs are the come on for the gig. In order to draw people live you’ve got to be honest and earnest, you’ve got to provide a human experience. You’ve got to make us feel there’s nowhere we’d rather be.
Keith didn’t look down upon the audience. He even spoke about the recession. Nashville has learned that you’re in bed with your audience, not talking down to people.
And last night Keith Urban spoke to me.
With his five guitar assault. With his stinging leads. With his songs that I knew by heart, that I could sing along with.
And although I loved "You’ll Think Of Me", when I heard the introductory notes of "Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me", I was truly elated!
I got no money in my pockets
I got a hole in my jeans
I had a job and I lost it
But it won’t get to me
I gave the parking attendant my last twenty. My expenses are exceeding my income. But last night none of that mattered…
‘Cause I’m ridin’ with my baby
And it’s a brand new day
We’re on the wheels of an angel
I’m there with my girlfriend. And eighteen thousand new buddies. We got the word. That country is the new rock and roll. And although there are evanescent hacks, those atop the heap deliver the same experience that made us sacrifice to buy records before they were free.
And the sun is shinin’
This road keeps windin’
Through the prettiest country
From Georgia to Tennessee
And I got the one I love beside me
My trouble behind me
I’m alive and I’m free
Who wouldn’t wanna be me
They say rock and roll will never die.
Metal acts in spandex are not keeping it alive.
Oldsters overcharging in sheds aren’t either.
Rather these country acts, who grew up on Skynyrd and the aforementioned AC/DC, who refused to play the coastal game and subjugate their music to their image, have picked up Fenders and Gibsons and are playing their songs to a driving beat. Hell, Keith even played one of his numbers solo on his Telecaster. A great song does not need gobs of production.
And you know the power of rock and roll. It can make you forget the economy, your romantic misadventures, all the trouble in your life.
You can sit on your bed listening to your records.
Or you can collect some cash and go to the gig. To see your favorite act.
And when they fire up your favorite song, you look to the heavens like a hound dog, singing along, thinking WHO WOULDN’T WANNA BE ME?