Most of Keith Urban’s fans would never want to close their eyes and miss a moment with his pretty blue eyes, but if they did they might be transported to a 1980s rock concert.
The Australian country singer — country maybe should be put in quotes — returned to Target Center on Saturday for another in a steady string of sold-out Twin Cities shows. He may have forgotten the last one, though.
“It’s been too long,” he told the 13,000-plus fans at the start of his two-hour set, which sounded like a joke since he sold out the State Fair grandstand just last year (and played here almost every year before that).
It was easy to see why Urban, 49, has been such a consistent crowd pleaser here in Middle America. He sings good, looks even better, has catchy tunes full of optimism, love and good vibes, and he’s even a pretty mean shredder on guitar. It was just hard to see why he’s still classified as a country artist.
Like Taylor Swift circa 2014, Urban is teetering into the pop/rock world more than ever with his latest album, “Ripcord,” and Saturday tilted even more in that direction. Unlike Tay-Tay, though, it’s the kind of pop/rock world a 49-year-old man lives in.
Perhaps to appease fans pining for the bro-country sounds cranking out of Nashville, Urban recruited Brett Eldredge from southern Illinois as one of his opening acts. The affable, T-shirted singer was solid with decent if formulaically varied music — a love song here, a party anthem there, a butt-kicker there.
Eldredge seemed especially calculated pandering to the crowd. “I’m ready to get drunk,” he yelled early in his set and later had to throw in the requisite ‘W’ word: “I think it’s time for whiskey.” Then he dimly played to Urban’s predominantly female audience by declaring, “Guys, you should never treat a woman like hell!” Eat your heart out, Gloria Steinem.
Urban’s set kicked off with a twangy tinge as he plucked out the intro to “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” on his ganjo (guitar/banjo hybrid). By the fist-pumping chorus of his second song “Long Hot Summer,” though, it started to feel a lot like a Bon Jovi or Journey concert. That feeling got even heavier as he and his tight, brotherly band delivered the new power-ballad “Break on Me” and then tore into the full-throttle rocker “Where the Blacktop Ends,” featuring the first of several fiery guitar solos by Urban.
Pristine hair isn’t all that Urban has in common with Jon Bon Jovi. He especially channeled New Jersey’s second-most famous rock bandleader in “Somewhere in My Car” and the encore finale “Raise ’Em Up.” Even the new song “Boy Gets a Truck” — which sounds like it should be a purebred country tune judging by the title — carried an ’80s anthemic rock sound of the U2 variety, and actually turned into one of the high points of the set.
Maybe Urban should stick to the retro sounds, too. Two of the more modernized songs off “Ripcord” fell flat: The poppy Carrie Underwood duet “The Fighter” and the vaguely hip-hop-ized, Pitbull-accompanied “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.” Part of the problem in each case was the awkwardness of Underwood’s and Pitbull’s pre-recorded vocals being piped in during the performance (although, to be fair, it would’ve been more awkward had Pitbull actually showed up).
A couple of living, breathing duets also spiked Urban’s set, including a fun run through “Love Somebody Like You” with Eldredge on a small stage at the opposite end of the arena.
Even better, opening act Maren Morris — fresh off winning a best new artist trophy at the CMA Awards — made another strong impression Saturday as she filled in for Miranda Lambert with Urban on “We Were Us.” That one sounded equal parts Wynette/Conway and Nicks/Petty, a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll and every bit Keith Urban.
Here’s the set list from Saturday’s concert:
• Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)
• Long Hot Summer
• Break on Me
• Where the Blacktop Ends
• Somewhere in My Car
• Boy Gets a Truck
• Blue Ain’t Your Color
• You Gonna Fly
• Days Go By
• We Were Us (with Maren Morris)
• Cop Car
• Sun Don’t Let Me Down
• The Fighter
• You Look Good in My Shirt (on small stage)
• Love Somebody Like You (on small stage, with Brett Eldredge)
• Little Bit of Everything
• John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16
• Wasted Time
• Stupid Boy (solo acoustic)
• Making Memories of Us
• Raise ’Em Up