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Brooks, fans enjoy the ride together

DCU Center, Worcester, Mass., February 28, 2016

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Garth Brooks acknowledged that he was huffing and puffing early on during the closing night of his three-night run. But he also made it clear he was going to be playing a long time and at one point challenged the crowd as to who would outlast the other.

Brooks didn't seem to have any problem though when it came to his wide and deep catalogue of hits, covers and deep album cuts during a fun, lively night of music in which crowd and singer seemed to bond as one on numerous occasions.

Brooks came out with shades on, playing "Man Against Machine," the title track of his most recent album. It would be the only full song he would play from the disc, which produced no hits. Brooks seemed to dispense with the idea of playing songs from the album when he told the crowd very early on that he hated when he'd go to a show, and the act would play a lot of new material.

Considering that "Man..." dropped 16 months ago, it's hard to call it new.

With that, this turned into pretty much a visit to Brooks' glorious musical past, playing hard core country, rodeo songs, rock, pop and blues.

And with songs like "Rodeo," "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House" and "The Beaches of Cheyenne" Brooks played song after song that more than hit the mark.

He had the knack to switch styles and tempos without ever settling in. It also helped to have a veteran band (the most recent addition to the core band was superb fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly 21 years ago) that did not go through the motions. And he had an extra band member or two in the form of the crowd, who was more than happy to sing-along without needing prompts.

Brooks can't seem to shake a few annoying habits. After doing this for decades, one would think he'd be very used to getting applause and the adoration of his fans. But he even mouthed the words "For me?" when the crowd persisted in cheering. Maybe he doesn't take it for granted - no artist should. Maybe it's just part of the Brooks shtick as is his habit of milking applause.

He also repeated the very unexciting putting one side of the crowd against the other to cheer loudly. Not needed, especially when it wasted about three minutes. Through it all, though, Brooks exuded joy.

The show wasn't only about Brooks as wife Trisha Yearwood popped up for the duet "In Another's Eyes." Yearwood took over the stage, while Brooks took a break. As she did in the Boston show last year, she played a few hits including "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)" and her still sturdy, career song "She's in Love With the Boy," her first single, which shot to number 1 in 1991.

Yearwood also gave a heartfelt reading of "PrizeFighter," a song she said had taken on a life of its own since its release more than a year ago as a single. For Yearwood, it was a message to be strong in the fight against cancer, which claimed her mother's life. Yearwood appeared genuinely moved by the response the song received from the crowd.

Brooks then returned to close out the regular set, ending with the huge one-two punch of "Friends in Low Places" (always a crowd pleaser, with the first few notes coming off of Brooks' acoustic guitar, but he needn't have teased yet again about not playing the third verse) and his signature ballad "The Dance" about enjoying the good times no matter what may unfold.

Brooks has always enjoyed a genuine connection with his fans and has an ability to emotionally move people. That was perhaps most evident during what may have been about the best part of the show - the encore.

Brooks was out there alone for most of the 35 minutes with but an acoustic guitar in hand, taking requests from the crowd who had written songs down on posters. In one case, he jokingly noted that the person's list seems to grow longer by the concert. He played one of her songs on the list and gave a hand gesture of song checked off at its conclusion.

Sometimes Brooks would play the entire song or most of it anyway ("She's Gonna Make It," which led it off, and a very deep album cut, "Everytime That It Rains" from his first album). Other times he would play snippets of the songs ("The Change") or most of them (two Bob Seger covers - "Turn the Page" and "Night Moves").

One imagined that the encore must bring a lot of pleasure to Brooks to see what people come up with, the chance to revisit his past or just pick a song or two he had in his back pocket from his musical soundtrack of life. If he didn't enjoy it, Brooks was great at faking it.

The full band returned for the closing trio of "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," a cowboy ode to the late Chris LeDoux, Billy Joel's "Piano Man" and "Standing Outside the Fire."

After 145 minutes, Brooks was no longer out of breath. More like pumped up. Call it a draw as both Brooks and fans were most happy enjoying the ride together.