And the winner is: Keith Urban

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 16, 2011 - 8:48 AM

REVIEW The Aussie's performance at Target Center proves why he is country music's best entertainer.

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He is not as edgy as Jason Aldean. Not as stagey as Taylor Swift. Not as trendy as Blake "Mr. Miranda Lambert" Shelton of TV's "The Voice." Not as video-obsessed as Brad Paisley.

But Keith Urban proved Saturday night at Target Center that he deserves to top those finalists for entertainer of the year when the Country Music Association announces the winner on Nov. 9.

Here are nine observations from Target Center why Urban merits the award:

1. Urban is the only country star who dares to be a guitar hero. His vocabulary is vast, his instincts right, his solos abundant and generous without being indulgent. For instance, "Raining on Sunday" began with the lyrical elegance of Pink Floyd's David Gilmour and ended with the soaring soulfulness of Prince.

2. Urban, who turns 44 this month, has the energy and oomph of AC/DC -- and the kick-butt drummer (Chris McHugh) to match. And, on the last night of his tour, Urban carried on for 32 songs (if you count the made-up one near the end) and 170 minutes.

3. The country superstar from Down Under reaches out and touches his fans -- literally. There was no moat or barrier between him and the 13,000 people at Target Center. He ventured into the crowd with his guitar (slapping hands with fans) and performed on a tiny stage in the middle of the arena and amid fans in the bowl-end (after which, he autographed an electric guitar and gave it to a fan).

4. Urban seemed more sincere than scripted, more spontaneous than choreographed, more fun than serious. And just plain funny. For instance, he paused at one point to read handmade signs that fans made. When he spotted one about a couple about to be married in 28 days, he asked if we all could come. (Later he invited that female sign holder onstage to be one of three fans to sing "Kiss a Girl.") But the sign that truly captured his fancy: "Husbands are hunting pheasants/wives hunting for photo with you." So he invited all three wives onstage, posed for photos with them and gave them each hugs -- as his band improvised Def Leppard's "Photograph."

5. His four-man band is tight and crisp and, like the frontman, not showy but potent (unless you count his guitar lit up like the kids' game Lite Brite).

6. Urban's songs -- which frankly sound like 1980s pop-rock -- fare so much better live, thanks to his heightened energy, emotionalism and enthusiasm. And that smile and those dimples might have something to do with it, too.

7. His covers were smartly chosen. They weren't there just to get the party started or to keep it going. For instance, a solo acoustic reading of Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" cleverly segued into Urban's own wedding classic, "Making Memories of Us," which started with just his acoustic guitar before the pedal steel guitar sweetening kicked in. Later, Urban's own country-rock stomp "You Gonna Fly" segued into Little Big Town's loud gospelly hoedown "Boondocks."

8. He sweetly and graciously gave a shout-out to his famous wife after "Without You," by saying, "I love you Nicole, baby."

9. Urban doesn't wear a cowboy hat because he's got the best hair in country music. Right, ladies?

set list: startribune.com/artcetera Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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