Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood at Madison Square Garden

Send to Kindle

Lois and I have never watched a complete episode of American Idol, and the only time we’ve even seen a reasonable portion of one was at our godson’s apartment, the night that Jordin Sparks won.

So, we didn’t know Carrie Underwood from that show (though, of course, we knew of her). We fell in love with her when she released her first CD, and have loved pretty much everything she has done since then as well.

When I saw that she was opening for Keith Urban at Madison Square Garden (MSG), I grabbed two tickets for us, a while ago. We aren’t all that familiar with Keith’s music (though we obviously hear his more popular stuff on the Country channel on XM Radio). We figured that at best, it would end up being a bonus like Kenny Chesney was (when we really went to see Pat Green and Sugarland!), and at worst, we’d know to avoid Keith in the future.

I wrote about that night here, and as you can see (or already know), we were blown away by Kenny’s performance. :-)

We were both marginally surprised that Carrie opens for Keith. She couldn’t be much bigger on her own, winning award after award, and selling CDs like crazy.

Last night’s show was scheduled to begin at 7:30pm. As I’ve written a number of times before, MSG usually runs like an on-time train. It’s a pleasure to know in advance that you won’t be sitting around for hours wondering when the show is going to start.

Oh well, the best laid plans… Last night was a wild exception to the norm. At 7:35pm (already five minutes late, no biggie yet) they put up a very big screen, with a digital timer on it, counting down from five minutes. You could feel the excitement in the crowd, as people focused on the counter. So, the show would only be 10 minutes late, but, you had five minutes warning, so, not too bad.

When the clock hit 10 seconds left, people started to clap and get really excited. When it hit zero, the lights went out. Typically, the music would start (in the dark), almost instantaneously. Unfortunately, nothing, for more than 30 seconds. A few minutes later, some yellow lights above the stage came on, but were facing out toward the crowd. It was masking the stage, so perhaps this was part of the show.

Nope. A few seconds later, the normal background music (from the speakers, not the stage) started up. No way the show was about to start. A few minutes later, the rest of the house lights came back on. No announcement, which was very disappointing. Then the digital timer came back on with five minutes again. Much less excitement in the crowd this time, as most people ignored it.

This time, the crowd waited until the countdown was at five seconds before starting to clap and cheer. When the lights went off this time, indeed, the music started in the dark, a few seconds later. When the stage lights came on, Carrie wasn’t there yet. As you started to hear her voice, they started showing videos on the very large screen behind the stage. Intermixed with desert scenes (including snakes), were snippets of Carrie, looking like she was walking through the video onto the stage. It was strange, but sort-of cool too.

Instead of her magically appearing from the video screen, after a bit, she emerged front and center stage, rising slowly from underneath. The crowd ate it up.

Let’s get the mundane out of the way. Carrie Underwood is stunningly beautiful. Of course, if you didn’t know that already, then you don’t own a TV, have never glanced at the cover of a magazine even casually, or have very strange taste. ;-)

(As with all the photos in the this blog, click on any one of them to see a larger version):

Carrie Underwood on the RunwayCarrie Underwood on the Runway 2

Carrie has an exceptional voice (duh, that’s probably true of most Female Vocalist of the Year winners). Her songs are really good as well, and the selection last night was excellent. Her band is obviously top notch as well. All that said, with the lousy acoustics (in general) at MSG, she wasn’t the best fit for the arena. Don’t get me wrong, her talent was obvious to everyone there. In addition, Lois believes that Carrie was working through a cold (and I think she’s right).

One of the problems (acoustically) is that Carrie’s voice is loud, clear and she hits lots of very high notes as well (with lots of power!). At MSG, it was simply piercing. Not her fault, as hitting the notes is exactly what she’s supposed to do. Still, it was on the painful side at times, not just because of the volume.

She has great stage presence, but even though the crowd loved her, it wasn’t the same energy (not even close) that we’ve seen with other performers at MSG. I was very surprised.

One thing that was very different from all other opening acts that we’ve seen at MSG (and most other places), was the staging. Normally, the opening act does everything in as muted a fashion as possible, in order to avoid any upstaging of the main act. Since Carrie is a legitimate headliner (in my opinion at least), she had way more glitz than any other opening act we’ve seen before.

There were two floating screens on either side of the stage, tall and thin, that mostly showed her live, so that people sitting far away (like us) could see her up close and personal. Behind the stage, where the counter had been, was a large screen showing videos in the background. She also changed her outfit four times, making five separate outfits during her show.

To recap, she came on at 7:50pm and played for exactly one hour. She then came back for a very nice encore, going off the stage at exactly 9pm. So, she was on for 70 minutes in total, after the 20 minute delayed start.

There was a 30 minute intermission, while they prepared the stage for Keith Urban. For the first time ever (in our personal experience), the effort was entirely visible to the crowd. Usually, they hang a very large black cloth to cover up all of the activity.

While we were killing time, we were chatting about how great Carrie was, but how horrible it was to see her at MSG (she really belongs at Radio City Music Hall, which would complement her strength amazingly well!). Lois said “I’m done with MSG, this is the last time I want to see a concert here.” I completely understood her feelings, but felt bad that certain acts would be shut off to us (e.g., Rascal Flatts).

At exactly 9:30pm, the lights went off, and the mood in the crowd changed dramatically. The second the first note on the guitar was heard, a bunch of people starting standing and going crazy (that didn’t happen for Carrie at all), unfortunately, including the two women sitting in front of us…

I won’t be able to do justice to the slick way they used the giant video screen behind the stage to introduce the first song, but trust me, the effect was mesmerizing, creative, and very cool.

When they finally lit up the stage, and Keith (and the band) were all out there (rocking their hearts out!), the crowd was in a complete frenzy. I was pretty sure it would be just like the Kenny Chesney show, but I was wrong. ;-)

Kenny’s show is a party, and he’s the guest of honor. He loves his fans, and it couldn’t be clearer, but it’s not really about the music (at least, not the one show that I was at). The music that night was great, and his band is exceptional, but it still isn’t/wasn’t about the music (to me).

That’s different with Keith Urban. In addition to the reason I mentioned above, about wanting primarily to see Carrie, I was curious about Keith, because my godson saw him two years ago in Washington, DC, and told me that he puts on a great show, and that he’s an incredible guitarist. So, I was definitely curious.

Props to my godson, as he was correct on both scores. Without a doubt, Keith Urban is one of the greatest entertainers I have ever seen.

Let’s start with something I really can’t explain. He (and his band, obviously) pretty much overcame the horrible acoustics at MSG as best as can be expected. There’s something about their sound that works in that place. As nuts as we are for Rascal Flatts, they did not overcome the problems, but we loved them despite that. Some part of it has to be the emotional connection with Keith. You are so sucked in, you aren’t distracted by the acoustics.

Perhaps the most brilliant touch last night was the simplicity of the staging. Both Kenny and Rascal Flatts had amazing technical displays, and wonderful uses of them. Still, on some level, they are a distraction from the band, and the music.

Keith had a giant screen behind the stage. For all but two or three numbers, it showed the live action on the stage (of course, mostly Keith himself). For a venue like MSG, it made all the difference in the world. Now, no matter where you are sitting, you see him (or whomever else they are highlighting) larger than life, including every facial expression, and guitar lick. It was fantastic.

Keith Urban on the Big Screen

I mentioned facial expressions because there is such a warmth and sweetness about him that is completely infectious (in fact, that’s true of the majority of his band as well), and if you weren’t in the first few rows, you wouldn’t connect to that unless they projected it so clearly.

Most of the repertoire last night was driving hard rock. It probably qualified as Country (for the most part) because of the themes and harmonies, but from a musical point of view, hard rock it was. But, he’s a very talented and varied musician, and he switched gears a number of times, including a few acoustic guitar numbers, and at least two numbers with him playing piano!

He has an excellent voice (I hadn’t appreciated that as much before last night), which somehow, wasn’t ruined by MSG either.

Here’s another example of simplicity. As I mentioned in this post (and showed photos as well), Rascal Flatts did some cool numbers on a rotating center stage, that had a special bridge which was raised and lowered at various times to give them access. It was way cool. Last night, Keith had a circular center stage as well, but there was a permanent runway connecting the two, and he used the runway effortlessly, all night.

Keith Urban AloneKeith Urban on the Runway and Big Screen

During one set, the core members of the band (six I believe) were on the center stage, and it was a little mellower, closer to us, and amazing!

Keith Urban on the Circular Stage

While the entire band was superb, I feel the need to specifically call out the drummer, Chris McHugh. I had never heard the name before, but obviously, I’ve heard him before. If you look at the page I linked to, I own at least four of the albums he’s played on, and I saw the movie Cars as well. I don’t know how he finds the time to eat given how much studio work he puts in, but he’s so amazing, that I understand why all of these superstars want him!

Keith Urban with Chris McHugh

Two final examples of Keith connecting with the crowd. Toward the end of the show, he walked off the stage into the crowd. Not just a few feet, but way into the crowd, and then up into the stands! Of course, he was mobbed by back-slappers, etc., and yet never missed a beat of playing his guitar, or singing. (I’m not sure Nicole Kidman should see this next photo.) ;-)

Keith Urban in the Crowd

Then, when he was jamming with one particular group of people, he took off the guitar, took a marker from one of his helpers, signed the guitar, and gave it to a couple. Because of the giant screen, we could see every nuance of the gesture. The woman looked like she died and went to heaven. Keith continued to sing, ran back to the stage, grabbed another guitar, and rocked out the rest of the song on the runway.

The second example will have to wait so it can be delivered in the correct order. :-)

Keith played for 100 minutes before saying goodnight. That alone is longer than most acts play, especially when the opening act plays for 70 minutes! In addition, the energy level they all put out (but him in particular!) was so high, that keeping it up for that long can’t be easy. So, when the lights went out, Lois said: “Surely, he isn’t coming out for an encore, right?”

I laughed, and said: “No way he doesn’t come back out!”

He did, for a solo on the piano, in a beautifully moving song that he sang for his wife, as a Valentine’s Day tribute (she’s apparently back home in Australia at the moment). Then the entire band joined him, and they did at least three more numbers. The encore lasted 20 minutes (sweet!), so that he was on for a total of two hours, which put the end at 11:30pm!

Keith Urban on the Piano

Near the very end of the show, they set off a number of confetti canons simultaneously. Here’s a fuzzy shot (larger than the rest) to give you a sense of the mayhem. ;-)

Keith Urban Confetti

After the show, nearly every single one we’ve ever been to, the lights go out, and the artist is gone (after the encore that is). The house lights then quickly come up, indicating to the audience that they should get out! ;-)

Last night, when the encore was over, the lights never went off. After the band collected together in front of the stage to take a group bow, they all stuck around and kept thanking the crowd. Then, even when the rest of the band was long gone, Keith kept walking around the stage and the runway, and thanking every section that was still around. There was no way we could even consider leaving before him.

It was very moving for both of us. There was a humility to his actions that was overwhelming.

So, I have no idea whether we’ll ever be back at MSG for a concert or not, but we’re not likely to be able to duplicate this experience without seeing this type of crowd interaction, on this scale.

Did I love it? Absolutely! Am I a Keith Urban fan now? Yes, at least for his live performances. I’m not really sure I’ll run out and buy his CDs, but I might. Do I prefer him (specifically, this show!) to Girlyman or The Wailin’ Jennys? (not just another gratuitous plug) ;-) Definitively, no!

There is an intimacy that comes with seeing people like Girlyman and The Jennys in a small venue that can’t be described accurately to someone who hasn’t experienced it. Aside from that, I actually prefer (reasonably strongly) the music and lyrics that both of those groups create to the more general Country music songs (which I love as well, but not as much, and differently).

That said, I am still amazed/impressed by how close Keith got to creating a sense of intimacy in a cavernous place like MSG.

  • Your godson

    Glad that you enjoyed my two favorite country performers! I wouldn’t be surprised if Carrie has a cold…she didn’t sound as impressive as sometimes on the Grammy’s either, although she definitely still sang great. And…she didn’t look bad either.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Howdy! :-)

    I read a review of the concert in Newsday (a newspaper in Long Island), and he confirms that indeed, Carrie has a cold. :-(

    He wrote an excellent review, very fair and pretty complete, which was a pleasant surprise for a “real media outlet”. ;-)

  • Miller

    Keith is just emulating what he’s seen his buddy Kenny Chesney do. Kenny does all those things you raved about. Kenny also stays after the show is over and signs autographs with all his opening acts. But Keith won’t sign. Nothing new or great that Keith is doing.

    Also, Carrie IS NOT his opening act. They are co-headlining. I would love to see Carrie live. Glad you enjoyed her show.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks for sharing. I certainly wasn’t dissing Kenny. I’m pretty sure I reiterated that we were blown away at that show. ;-)
    As for Carrie “co-headlining”, they can pitch it anyway they like, but it simply doesn’t come across that way.
    Keith played longer in his normal set than Carrie played including her encore, and if you include his encore, he was on for nearly twice as long as she was.
    Anyway, we’re both nuts about Carrie, and were sorry that she had a cold, and she’s certainly awesome enough to headline any show!

  • scmonkeyshinejovigrl

    Hi! I just wanted to say that I loved your post. Great review of the show and I have to say that every show I have been to and every performance that I have seen of Keith’s is as good as what you have described. He does have an absolutely awesome band too – they are all great guys and you can tell they really enjoy their “jobs”! I love the talent that Keith has – he is definitely a super guitarist as well as an awesome singer and pianist too! I am going to see Keith in Charlotte NC and Atlanta Ga (2 nights in a row!) in April and just saw him in Greenville SC in Dec. 07. By the time April passes, I will have seen Keith live 5 times in less than a year. (Possibly will go to more if the dates work out throughout the year) My first Keith concert was just last year in Atlanta on June 30 and I, like you, could have gone either direction. I liked his music and went with a good friend who is a huge fan of his. By the time I left the venue, I was a huge fan as well and he was one of my top 2 performers / musicians and is actually probably my #1 as I write this today. His shows are addictive and I love his music. I was in terrible nosebleed seats at my first show and totally enjoyed every minute of it – like you say, he connects in a way that most artists don’t if you are not close to the stage on the floor. I am sort of opposite of you going into the concert because I am not a big Carrie Underwood fan – I like some of her music and definitely think she is superbly talented but to me she seems a little stiff on stage when she is performing. I am hoping I will come from the show a little bit more of a fan than I am now! :-) I have seen her & Keith on you tube singing “umbrella” and it is really awesome – you should go check it out if they didn’t sing it together that night. Thanks for the great post / show review! I can’t wait for my shows to get here!
    P.S. I love Rascal Flatts too – my daughter (who is 9) got me interested in them and now I have been to several of their shows as well. I love how they are so faithful to the fan club members – I always get great close up seats for their shows and really have a great time. I guess I am just a concert junkie – I love live music and have been an avid concert goer for the past 27 years!

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thank you very much for sharing your experiences as well!
    Both my wife and I would see Keith live again, in a heartbeat, so I can understand your current “streak”. :;-)
    I just checked out the “Ubmrella” video, thanks for pointing it out, very nicely done! Unfortunately, they didn’t do it at MSG, and I suspect it’s because Carrie was clearly “under the weather”. :-(
    Enjoy the shows! :-)

  • Jodi

    I’ve never seen Kenny Chesney play guitar like Keith Urban does. I don’t think he emulates Kenny in any way…..Keith is way above that. And I don’t get where you think Keith doesn’t sign autographs….he signed them many times during the show..I’ve seen him. Why be jealous of Keith getting recognition he so deserves!! Kenny has gotten more than his share, so don’t be so jealous!! Keith is a fantastic musician where Kenny Chesney is not and in my book and others too, that puts him a little above the rest!! Hadar, this was an outstanding review and I totally agree with you! And I never got the impression you were dissing Kenny! Some people are just so resentful of Keith’s talents. Since Carrie performs before Keith, then I would assume she is the opening act, too!

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks Jodi. Obviously, I agree with your perspective. I don’t know about signing autographs after the show, but as I pointed out, Keith signed his guitar and gave it away. That counts for me. ;-)

  • Tera

    Hadar your review was great!!! I have seen him about 6 times and each one is better than the last! He is a very talented man and very appreciative for all his fans support and love. And to the person who post that he does not sign autographs……have you ever been to a show of his because he DOES sign them! Awesome review….THANKS! :)

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks Tera!

  • RNW

    Hello! I found your post while searching the internet! I was also at the concert and thought it was fantastic! Actually, the reason I was at the concert in the first place is because my little brother is in the drumline that had the drum break during I told you so. This leads me to the reason i am commenting on your posting. I saw that you had terrific pictures and was hoping that maybe you had or know someone that had a recording of i told you so that included the drum break. It would be really unbelievable if i were able to find a recording of it for my brother! If you do have one or know someone and would not mind sharing, i can be reached via email at znzweber@aol.com. Thank you very much and i’m glad that you enjoyed the concert as much as i did!

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Howdy! I definitely don’t have a recording, but my wife says that she thinks she might have some still photos of them (they were AWESOME!!!, please tell your brother!).

    She’s already logged off for the night, but we’ll check in the morning, and if we have any (good or bad), we’ll ship ‘em your way! :-)

    Thanks for leaving the comment.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    OK, my wife has 6 photos of the drum line. I just emailed them to you in 6 separate emails, since in the old days, AOL only permitted one attachment per email (that’s probably changed by now…).

    I hope at least one of them has your brother in it! :-)

  • kelly seymour

    i saw Keith last summer in Mass. and just was blown away. He is a fantastic performer, and I wish I could have been at MSg, but you made me feel like I was there! I relished every word you wrote! I am a huge fan of his, and I live in Maine, so it’s hard to get to see him in a nearby vicinity. I’ve only seen him once, but I am hopeful someday I can see him again. I have never been a country fan until I heard Keith Urban. I’m still not sure I consider him country. I love rock and roll, and his music fits that category for me.
    There is something soothing and raw in his voice that just really touches me. That’s the only way I can explain it. And the man can play a mean guitar. So thank you for your wonderful review. You made my day, and helped to relive that moment for me once again.

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks Kelly! I hope you get to see him again soon! :-)

  • Janie King

    My husband Joe and I saw him at AC for the 7th time! He does get better and better each time! You are absolutely right on, the unspoken energy and positive spirit is felt from the minute the beating heart starts and he walks out on that stage until the last humble , very greatful bow at the end of a very long, never wanting it to be over oncore, Congrats to your Godchilds engagement! We thought Carrie was very good, and what a sweetheart! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog!

  • http://www.opticality.com/blog/ hadar

    Thanks Janie! We both hope to have many more “Keith encounters” in the future. I discovered (in searching for the song Once in a Lifetime Love) that I actually own the Days Go By CD. So, at least I can start listening to that, and then progress to get more of his stuff before getting to see him live again.

    Thanks for the congrats, we’re all very excited. :-)

  • robin

    are you sure about all that you just said? first of all, i have NEVER seen kenny play more than a few chords on one song, he does not have an amazing voice, (he has little range) and he is highly over-publicized. and as for keith, im pretty sure he signs autographs, because i got one during the show and he even stays after to do so. WAYYY after. i know of a person who got his autograph at 3 in the morning from his tour bus! so yes he signs autographs, he can sing, he has a range, he can ACTUALLY play and instrument, he cares about his fans and he is one of the best entertainers out there. and as for carrie being the opening act, no one ever suggested that and if you know anything about his tour, you would know that it is called “the love pain and whole crazy carnival ride tour”. so we KNOW that she is co-headlining!

    thanks for the great review!

  • Heather

    What a trouble maker you are. You love going from board to board or blog to blog & critize Keith. Your critizism is completely unfounded & you know it. If anything Kenny has learned a thing or two from Keith. The first time I saw Chesney 4 years ago, Keith & Deirks Bentley were on tour with him. The 3 signed autographs at the end of the show. Chesney was the first to STOP signing, plus he stayed in one spot. Keith went from one side of the stage to the other & signed autographs for as many as he could. In fact, one of the stage crew had to go & tap Keith on the shoulder to get him to stop signing.

    And yes, Carrie is the opening act. She was incredibly stiff on stage when I saw her. Hopefully, she has learned from Keith.

  • Heather

    What a trouble maker you are. You love going from board to board or blog to blog & critize Keith. Your critizism is completely unfounded & you know it. If anything Kenny has learned a thing or two from Keith. The first time I saw Chesney 4 years ago, Keith & Deirks Bentley were on tour with him. The 3 signed autographs at the end of the show. Chesney was the first to STOP signing, plus he stayed in one spot. Keith went from one side of the stage to the other & signed autographs for as many as he could. In fact, one of the stage crew had to go & tap Keith on the shoulder to get him to stop signing.

    And yes, Carrie is the opening act. She was incredibly stiff on stage when I saw her. Hopefully, she has learned from Keith.

  • http://mostplays.com games

    This article I so true, keep on writing like this, enjoyment to read :) 278

  • Pingback: Chuck Mangione at Tarrytown Music Hall – Random Musings

  • Pingback: Keith Urban and Sugarland at MSG | Random Musings

  • http://onlinediscprinting.com/ DVD Duplicators

    Pretty good band.