More than an opening band, Sugarland seemed like co-headliners with Keith Urban on Thursday (Oct. 8) at New York's Madison Square Garden. The band's feel-good 14-song kick-off featured five glowing umbrellas used throughout the performance. Covers of R.E.M.'s "Nightswimming," Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home" and Katrina & The Waves' "Walking On Sunshine" were clever choices along with the hip-shaking "All I Wanna Do." Next, Jennifer Nettles included several rousing bars of a funked-up, countrified version of Madonna's "Holiday," which fit perfectly into the melody. "It Happens" and "Joey" were other crowd favorites but it was the ballad "Stay" that silenced the venue in appreciation.
When headliner Keith Urban took the stage, he mixed his setlist of hits with just the right amount of new material off recent album, "Defying Gravity." Though country is at the core of Urban's instrumentation and vocals, there are traces of pop/rock driven by song production and song arrangement as well as anthemic hooks that make Urban's show more of a rock show than a country one.
Urban opened with the appropriately-titled "Hit The Ground Runnin'." After the intense smash of drums on pop/rock-friendly "Days Go By" and an extended guitar solo on "Stupid Boy," the entertainer greeted everyone and acknowledged Sugarland.
A string of ballads followed, starting with "Once In A Lifetime." Cheers ensued as Urban dedicated "Making Memories Of Us" to Nicole Kidman, "I'm very blessed because I have my wife in the audience - this song's for you baby." The romance continued with new ballad "Only You Can Love Me This Way," with Urban on acoustic and Chris Rodriquez playing ganjo.
The pace of the show picked up in a big way with the guitar vamp off new favorite "Sweet Thing." Before getting on the keyboard for the moving "Thank You," Urban shared that the inspiration of this song was his wife and again dedicated the piano song to Kidman, smiling as he sung the line "I swear that I'd been born again brand new/and it's all because of you."
After the audience joined together in the "whoa-oh-ohs" of easy-going "Raining On A Sunday," Urban introduced his band and several musicians performed a few a capella bars of songs of their choice including Chris Rodriquez on "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," Brian Nutter's take on "Open Arms" and fellow member of The Ranch in the 90s "Jerry Flowers, who sang part of "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone."
Urban welcomed Sugarland back on stage for The Eagles song "Seven Bridges Road." "Kiss A Girl" brought the crowd to their feet dancing and singing the "na na nas" loudly with the guitar and energy high.
After the main set ended with "Somebody Like You," the encore began with "Tonight I Wanna Cry," accompanied by the audience singing softly. The optimistic "Better Life" was fun - Urban went to both sides of the stage and gently bowed while singing and made his last run down the ramp going into the audience. He went to the back of the arena once again displaying his iconic silhouette that opened the show two hours before.
Fans were shown on screen, then, in an unexpected moment, he ran through the arena to the backstage area. As the band concluded the song, he reached the street in front of the Garden, a random person took a picture of Keith Urban on the street, he confidently hailed a cab, got in, waved to the cameras and in a New York minute he was gone.
Here is Keith Urban's Set List:
Hit The Ground Runnin'
Days Go By
Where The Blacktop Ends
Once In A Lifetime
Making Memories Of Us
Only You Can Love Me This Way
Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me
'Til Summer Comes Around
Raining On A Sunday
Seven Bridges Road (this is an Eagles Song)
Kiss A Girl
I Told You So
You'll Think Of Me
You Look Good In My Shirt
Somebody Like You
Tonight I Wanna Cry