Keith Urban to play Huntington Center on July 29Written by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
For Keith Urban, the place throughout his career where he has felt most at home has been on the concert stage.
“It’s the place where I feel most like me, musically, playing live,” he said in a late June phone interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “It’s what I’ve done more than anything, certainly way longer than I’ve been making records.”
That sort of comfort is reflected in the live show supporting his latest CD, “Get Closer.” A performer has to feel comfortable to incorporate some of the staging elements that Urban has added to his new show, which will land in the Huntington Center on July 29.
“The tour we did two years ago now, we had ramps at either end of the stage that allowed me to walk down and back into the audience and back to the stage real easily, and I loved it so much, that we designed the (new) stage as sort of semicircular,” Urban said, his Australian accent still very much evident. “Basically, the whole front is just one big sloping ramp. There’s just nothing between us and the audience, which is basically what I was striving for.”
Anyone who has seen Urban on recent tours knows that he doesn’t limit his performance to the main stage. His walks out into the audience while playing guitar have become trademarks of his shows. And for this tour he’s taken the concept of playing to the entire arena to a new level, placing several small stages around the venue floor, where he can perform at various points in the show.
“I really like the experience of just walking through the audience to get to a different stage or places in the arena,” Urban said. “It’s one way to have everybody have a moment where they’re fairly close to the stage at a given time.”
All this talk of connecting and finding ways to get up close to the audience seems fitting considering Urban is touring behind a CD called “Get Closer” and he has named the tour after that album. He is creating this connection and intimacy despite playing venues that hold upwards of 20,000 people a night — a talent that has caused many critics to praise Urban as one of today’s best performers of any musical genre.
“Get Closer” fits in with the style Urban has established on recent albums, where he has fashioned an upbeat crossover sound that has country elements, but also assimilates a polished rock sound. The blend of crossover country, rock and pop makes sense when Urban discusses his roots.
“I didn’t grow up on Ernest Tubb or Hank Williams. I grew up on Ronnie Milsap and Don Williams and Glen Campbell and much more contemporary sort of records,” he said. “And then through the ’80s, it was Alabama and these kind of groups. So it was much more contemporary to begin with.”
On a thematic level, “Get Closer” (which was released in a standard eight-song version and a Target stores exclusive version with seven additional tracks) has been touted as Urban’s most personal CD yet, with romantic songs dominating the lyrical landscape of the album.
Many observers have concluded that the songs of love are a direct outgrowth of perhaps the biggest recent change in Urban’s life — his marriage to actress Nicole Kidman in June 2006. Urban confirmed the real-life connection in his most recent songs — sort of.
“I gravitate toward songs about love, I always have, in all its various forms,” he said. “The finding it, the wanting it, the losing it, the not having it, the fear of it, the joy of it, the infinite facets of it, have always been sort of represented in my records. The difference today is I’m actually in the relationship that these songs are about. Early in my records, they were really about imagining what a relationship would be like, like that. My personal life didn’t really reflect what I was singing about. And they’re much more closely connected these days.”