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Keith Urban shows he's the king of country/rock

Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada, December 13, 2007

Reviewed by David McPherson

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Keith Urban proved last night he's the undisputed king of country/rock.

From the throngs of women wishing he was still single - some wearing white T-shirts proclaiming: "Keith you're my better half" - to the couples and kids, there was enough entertainment for everyone.

And it's for this reason that his music is so accessible and enjoyable - from pure country fans to along-for-the-ride observers, everyone equally enjoyed his bravado, passion and persuasive performance.

Urban certainly shared his appreciation with the near sell-out crowd, slapping hands along the catwalk in the front row throughout the evening and calling the fans his friends - thanking them for their support over the last year.

Meeting up with one of these casual fans in the washroom, prior to Urban's first encore, sums up this power of persuasion. The guy says he's more of an AC/DC fan, but bought tickets for his girlfriend. Then the concertgoer admitted he was sold by the show.

Gary Allan opened, playing many songs from his latest rock-tinged record "Living Hard." Highs included current single "Watching Airplanes," which Allan performed while roaming the catwalk that ran the length of the stadium, to the acoustic gem "Songs About Rain."

Unfortunately, the sound levels were off, and Allan's vocals were way too loud. His band was energetic, and each member tried to steal the show from Allan, epitomized by the fact that at one point the pedal steel player carried his instrument down the catwalk to perform.

A larger-than-life screen was set up behind the stage and shortly before 9 p.m., a 10-second countdown commenced as the screams got louder and louder. Urban strutted onto the stage in a lone spotlight, strumming his guitar, breaking into "Once in a Lifetime." From here, the Australian country-rocker paraded out his "kids" (as he refers to his songs on his Greatest Hits disc) one by one for the next two hours, backed by a tight and talented band.

It only took the country star a few songs before Urban's black T-shirt was sweat soaked. A contagious smile never left the musician's face all night. You could tell he was having fun.

Prior to "Shine," Urban showed his prowess on the guitar and that he leans as much towards rock as he does country by playing various riffs from classic-rock songs such as Free's "Alright Now" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."

Sing-alongs were the norm, and Urban encouraged his faithful to join in, making them feel like an extension of his band. The highlight was a heartfelt, solo acoustic version of "Raining on Sunday" - where Urban used his guitar as a drum while the crowd sang the chorus.

Later, his entire band (including the drummer) shifted to the other end of the stadium for a theatre-in-the-round coffeehouse unplugged set, featuring "Better Half" and "Making Memories of Us."

Prior to a sizzling version of "Days Go By" - a local drum corps took the stage. The Dutch Boy Drum Corps got the already aroused admirers stompin' their feet to their beat.

Two hours after beginning his set, Urban proclaimed to the fans: "That's it. We are moving to Canada! The last night we played was crazy, but tonight it's off the hook. It's like New Year's Eve here."

That acknowledgement led to a cover by Urban played at the piano of the Violent Femmes's classic "Blister in the Sun." He then dedicated "Got it Right This Time (The Celebration)" to his wife Nicole Kidman, who he said could not be there, and he wore for the remainder of the show a Toronto Maple Leafs' Santa hat that a fan on the floor threw to him while he was parading down the catwalk.

As this country/rock ride came to a close with confetti blasting into the air, and band members tossing their picks and drum sticks to the crowd, everyone left the arena with a smile at the powerful and passionate performance they were privy to.