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Concert review: Garth Brooks wows in return to Twin Cities

(Tony Nelson/City Pages)

If Garth Brooks and his camp were at all worried about whether or not two nights of playing to 70,000+ was a worthwhile endeavor, those trepidations were put to bed from the moment the lights went out at U.S. Bank Stadium Friday night.

Of course, this Friday night show didn’t always exist from the beginning. When Brooks announced a Saturday date in Minneapolis as a stop for his first all-stadium tour back in December, it was a virtual guarantee tickets would sell out almost immediately. They did, of course, but intense fan demand and a plea from Governor Mark Dayton — plus loud cash register sound effects going off in the Brooks camp — resulted in the addition of the Friday show, making the Twin Cities the only multi-night stop on the tour so far.

Making the two sold-out shows even more impressive is the in-the-round setup Brooks is using on this tour, jettisoning the traditional end-stage format to ensure every possible seat in the stadium can be filled — a first in the short concert history of U.S. Bank Stadium.

The buzz around a Garth show is not quite like any other in the business, and the 70,000-plus in attendance Friday night got all they wanted and more from the country music legend.

Opening with “All Day Long,” the first single from his upcoming album, seemed like a way of dispensing with the pleasantries and getting the obligatory new music promotion out of the way, though it did serve as an adequate crowd starter.

From that point on, it was time to play the hits. Brooks is infamous for his hammy on-stage persona, constantly fawning over the loud ovations and the audience’s ability to remember “the old stuff.” It’s endearing, though, and the massive audience ate up every second of it, starting with the cowboy classic “Rodeo.”

For most artists, five number-one songs is enough to call it a career and ride off into the sunset. For Brooks, who has amassed 19 number-ones on Billboard’s Hot Country chart over the course of his career, it’s just the front end of the setlist. “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” sent the building into a frenzy, followed by “Two Piña Coladas,” a favorite among those in the audience choosing to indulge in a few adult beverages.

“The Beaches of Cheyenne” (a personal favorite), “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and “The River” closed out the five-pack of chart-toppers, with fans lighting up the cavernous stadium in a swaying, LED glow during the last.

Brooks commented on the closed roof more than once throughout the night, mentioning an indoor venue not only eliminates the threat of weather, but the institution of a noise curfew as well, before adding, “Just because it won’t be raining inside, don’t think for a second the thunder ain’t gonna roll,” before starting in on one of his most recognizable songs among even those who aren’t country music fans.

The hits quite literally kept on coming, with a full-blown audience singalong on “Unanswered Prayers” and the incendiary “Papa Loved Mama,” among others, preceding what Garth described as his favorite song to play live, “Callin’ Baton Rouge” — an Oak Ridge Boys original Brooks turned into a massive hit of his own. Two more covers, both of which garnered immense success for Brooks over the years, Billy Joel’s “Shameless” and Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” provided tender moments, with the latter dedicated to a couple who had staged a proposal in the middle of the show.

The vast majority of those in attendance knew every word to every song in the set, but those who didn’t got their ultimate Garth moment near the end of the main set, when Brooks proclaimed, “I’m biased, but I think we might have the best singalong song in the history of country music,” before inviting longtime friend and guitar player Ty England to pick the opening notes of “Friends in Low Places,” garnering the loudest roar of the night and igniting an absolute party in the crowd, all the way through the infamous third verse and confetti blast when it was over.

The main set ended with “The Dance,” Brooks’ 1990 mega-hit about finding the beauty in life’s journey, as the audience once again overpowered the sound system with their collective voice and Brooks offered profuse thanks for “one of the best shows I’ve ever played.”

The encores included multiple sign requests for songs rarely played by Brooks and his band in their modern era, such as “Ireland,” “Learning to Live Again” and “Wild Horses,” — another personal favorite from Brooks’ legendary No Fences — while including “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old,” a song each and every person in attendance, regardless of age, sang as if it was the embodiment of their own lives.

Brooks closed out the night with two more covers: Bob Seger’s “Night Moves” and Don McClean’s “American Pie” (my apologies to the couple in front of me for my raucous reaction and singing along to these two songs).

It should be noted that for all the negative reviews surrounding U.S. Bank Stadium when it comes to the sound at concerts, Garth and his crew apparently took it upon themselves to improve the experience for everyone. According to Brooks, his crew carpeted the floor, closed off the top of their stage rig, and covered other hard surfaces in an attempt to eliminate echo throughout the stadium, as well as placing extra loudspeakers in the upper levels. This, along with the curtains installed for the Final Four in April, contributed to a much improved acoustic experience.

When it comes to legacies in country music, and music in general, frankly, Brooks is second to none when it comes to name and song recognition — and he knows it. On a Friday night, at a show that wasn’t even originally planned, he rewarded the faith of country music fans from all over the upper Midwest and left absolutely nothing to be desired.

Garth Brooks Setlist (May 3rd, 2019, U.S. Bank Stadium):

All Day Long

Rodeo

Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House

Two Piña Coladas

The Beaches of Cheyenne

Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)

The River

Fishin’ in the Dark

We Shall Be Free

The Thunder Rolls

Standing Outside the Fire

Unanswered Prayers

That Summer

More Than a Memory

Papa Loved Mama

Ask Me How I Know

Callin’ Baton Rouge

Shameless

To Make You Feel My Love

Friends in Low Places

The Dance

Encore:

Ireland

Learning to Live Again

Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)

The Change

Wild Horses

Night Moves

American Pie

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