Country star Keith Urban  wants his new concert tour to live up to the title of his latest album, "Get Closer."
After using ramps that took him down to audience-level on his 2009-10 dates, Urban says his latest trek -- which kicks off Thursday (June 16) in Biloxi, Miss. -- will explore even greater levels of connectivity. "I love those ramps so much," Urban tells Billboard.com. "I liked the feeling of accessibility to the audience -- there's no fence, no barriers, no massive security people. So I thought I would take that a little further this time."
Urban says this time out he's using a "semi-circular stage where the entire front is sloped down into the arena floor. To me it feels much more inviting from the audience standpoint. It just does away with all of the feeling of barriers. It feels like they can just wander up the ramps and come onto the stage if they want." And, Urban says, that actually happened a couple times during his last tour.
"But it didn't happen nearly as much as people thought it would," he adds. "I've always had this feeling that when you put barriers up people want to get over them, but if you get rid of the barrier and people knew they could come up if they wanted, they're less inclined to. Now, I'm talking fairly logical people, too; you get enough alcohol into the right fans and there's no logic involved. But I've always felt from my audience it's more of an 'us thing' instead of me and them, so I'm more inclined to keep opening up all of that access and integrating the audience more."
Urban says the Get Closer 2011 world tour will also feature extensive video production and a stage set inspired by amusement parks. And, he's pleased to report, the songs from 2010's "Get Closer" -- including "Without You," his 12th country chart-topper -- seem to play well in a live setting.
"We did a short run in Australia, and I was pretty happy with how the new songs sounded," he says. "We did a lot of songs off the new record, and it's was really good to see how people sang along with them. I'm really happy with the record. I love these songs, and if I'm fortunate enough to get to do these for many years to come, I'll be very happy."
Next up on the singles front is "Long Hot Summer," which Urban co-wrote with Richard Marx  -- starting it in Nashville and finishing it on his tour bus while Urban was opening for the Eagles  last year. "Joe Walsh actually came on the bus to say hi while Richard and I were finishing (the song)," Urban recalls. "He came up and goes, 'Hey, you guys working on a big hit?' I said, 'Well, we just want to finish up this song.' So he got off the bus and left us for an hour or two so we could finish the song and then came back on. I like to think that somehow Joe Walsh came in and sprinkled a little mojo on the song without even knowing."
Urban will be touring North America through mid-October, including a Canadian swing with the Band Perry , with whom he recently started working on a song. "I really love those guys," Urban says. "There's a thing about sibling harmonies and music...There's nothing quite like it. They're a really, really exceptional, gifted family. We started work on a song; we didn't get to finish it, but hopefully we can because I'd love to have a song with those guys, just to do it live if nothing else."
- Live