Live Review: Keith Urban + Sheppard - Allphones Arena, Sydney (21.06.14)

For anybody who thinks that going to a Keith Urban concert is going to be littered with a country-hoedown-experience, they’re way off the mark. It’s a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza with some notable guest-stars hopping on stage and some fine showmanship from one of the nicest guys in the music business.

Our openers Sheppard are that brand of indie-pop that’s drenched in saccharine sweetness. They’ve had success with their two big radio hits ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and ‘Geronimo’ which have those ear-worm choruses and lovely smooth vocal harmonies that blend nicely and are strategically placed midway and near the end of the set. They’re that sort of band who as soon as you hear those two tracks you realise who it is you’re listening to. On the downside too many of the songs in their set sound and feel similar in both pace and style. There’s a bit too much light and not enough shade and everything starts to feel a little same-same. On the plus side their energy and chirpiness definitely lifted our moods and got us even more excited for our headliner. I normally try not to comment on the fashion or styling of a band (that’s not really why you go to watch a live concert in my opinion) but I’m deducting points from Amy Sheppard for needing to have her hair colour touched up, that extremely washed out blue was not a good look. However bonus points go to lead singer George Sheppard for being a cutie, he’s clearly going to steal a lot of young tween girl hearts. So I guess it balances out in the end.

Ah Keith Urban, he pretty much has it all, successful and lengthy music career, a gorgeous family, legions of (predominantly female) fans, so many guitars that he can literally give them away, and glorious hair. It just doesn’t seem fair that one guy can get all the good things, but at least it’s “our Keith”. ‘Love’s Poster Child’ is our opening track off his current record Fuse and one of the few that gets a play that has that ever-so-slight country twang that reminds us of where Urban got his start. ‘Sweet Thing’ and ‘Somewhere In My Car’ brought the crowd to their feet with lots of dancing and singing and the energy was already bordering on electric.

Now you can say that there’s plenty of nice guys in the music industry, but how many of them take the time out of their show to invite a 12 year old up onstage? Not only that, but he made specific mention of the fact she had a sign saying she’d loved him for 11 years and even had an onstage selfie with her, what a cutie. But that wasn’t Urban’s only ‘nice guy’ moment, after telling us the story about seeing a YouTube video of a fan covering one of his songs, he decided he’d bring Brooke Schubert out on tour to duet ‘We Were Us’ with him, and wow, screw TV shows like The Voice, he can find his own talent as damn could that girl sing. Oh but wait, there’s more, mid-way through the show during ‘Days Go By’ Urban goes running off into the audience and parks himself up in the first elevation near the back of the arena with a guitar and mic-stand surrounded by the crowd. After nearly wrapping up ‘You Look Good In My Shirt’ he grabs a sharpie, signs his guitar and hands it to a girl directly in front of him and goes running back up to the main stage to complete the song. The look on her face was gold, pretty sure he just made that girl’s year (or life) and just handed over a guitar worth some decent coin. But it’s not the money it’s the experience that counts, and for each one of those fans it is priceless, and even for the rest of us, it gives us that second-hand warm fuzzy feeling.

It’s nice to know that even rock stars like Urban are fans of other people too and we’re treated to some all-stars showing up for a little onstage collaboration. First, Jessica Mauboy joins Urban for a cover of Cold Chisel’s ‘When The War Is Over’ but when Jimmy Barnes walks out for the second half of the song the whole arena erupts in cheers. It’s just the three of them, with an acoustic guitar and it’s one of the most haunting and electric things I’ve ever heard, there’s simply no doubting the vocal power of Barnes, or the elegance of Mauboy and the guitar prowess of Urban. They then stay on for AC/DC’s ‘Long Way To The Top’ which is just as great, albeit not quite as spine-tingly. And just coz The Voice tie-ins aren’t quite done, Joel Madden strolls out to sing Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ which incites some more crowd-participation.

It might seem like the Keith Urban & Friends show, and feel like a rock ‘n’ roll gala but really if you are paying any sort of attention, you’ll see that this is an opportunity for Urban to show off just how damn good a guitarist he is. He reminds me a lot of John Mayer, in that his songs revolve more around his exceptional guitar skills and in parts give him a chance to show them off. ‘Even The Stars Fall For You’ ‘Good Thing’, ‘Better Life’ and show closer ‘Somebody Like You’ which had a go-pro camera strapped to the head of his guitar giving us a close-up view of those skills in full flight, are all fine examples of how these songs translate so much better live than they do recorded purely because we get to see Urban and his bandmates going to town as musicians. Flip the coin though, and Urban’s slow ballad numbers like ‘Cop Car’, ‘Shame’ and ‘Making Memories Of Us’ give the band some breathing room and a chance for us all to swoon a little and admire the pretty lights that are glowing from behind and above Urban’s head.

I remember seeing him back in 2005 at the Hordern Pavilion and being surprised at how “not country” his show was. Well this time around, we were treated to one of those crazy-good-time rock ‘n’ roll shows, I don’t even know how they could call his style country-rock, or contemporary-country, as it definitely doesn’t sound anything like what I imagine country to be. Irrespective of all the bells and whistles we were treated to, getting to just sit and watch such a magnificent guitarist completely in his element was a real joy.

That and watching him flick his majestic hair out of his face.