Seven years after his last area appearance, country singer Garth Brooks returned to North Texas on July 30, performing an electrifying two-hour concert that was as much a raucous, career-spanning show as it was a thank-you letter to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In each city on Brooks' current Stadium Tour, the 60-year-old singer has paid tribute to one or more of his musical heroes, making no two shows the same. In Charlotte, NC, he played several James Taylor and Randy Travis songs. Salt Lake City was treated to three Keith Whitley covers. Birmingham got four Lynyrd Skynyrd songs.
On Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Brooks paid tribute to another entity that helped shape his career: Dallas-Fort Worth. In between nearly every song, Brooks reminded the sold-out crowd of about 90,000 of the instrumental role North Texas has played in his 40-year career.
"This is where we all started," he said multiple times, name-checking local bars and clubs, such as Cowboys and Borrowed Money, where he got his start in the late 1980s. "We lived here for the first two years of our careers."
He reminisced about past shows at American Airlines Center, the old Reunion Arena, and the now-gone Texas Stadium, where he played a string of special effects-laden shows in 1993.
Saturday's show put a clear focus on the music. Brooks' theatrical entrance — emerging on a platform beneath a rising drum kit — were about the show's only bells and whistles. Four large video screens, one on each side of the in-the-round stage, made sure every seat was a good one.
Following a short set by his wife, Trisha Yearwood, Brooks — dressed in a western shirt, Wranglers, boots, and cowboy hat — took the stage a little after 9:30 pm.
Backed by his longtime band, he opened with a triplet of boisterous, bar-room audience favorites — "All Day Long," "Rodeo," and "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House" — that set the tone of the show.
"We brought ALL the old stuff," he said before launching into "The Beaches of Cheyenne," a cut from his third album, 1995's Fresh Horses.
During classics such as "Papa Loved Mama," "That Summer," and his cover of Billy Joel's "Shameless," Brooks roamed and ran across the stage like a 20-year-old, waving and pointing to fans, reading their signs aloud and, in one instance, wishing someone a happy birthday. By the middle of the show, he'd worked up such a sweat, his purple shirt appeared black.
At times the show seemed meticulously choreographed, as during "Standing Outside the Fire," when video screens lit up with images of smoke and flames. Other times, it felt refreshingly casual: During the acoustic "Unanswered Prayers," most of the band sat down on the stage and talked to one another while Brooks performed.
Later, Brooks strummed through acoustic versions of "The Red Strokes" and "We Shall Be Free" — requests he spontaneously plucked from the audience.
Throughout the show, Brooks wore his humility on his sleeve, introducing each member of his band, many of whom have been with him since 1988, along with his crew. Yearwood was given the I-love-you treatment from Brooks: The two shared a duet, a cover of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper's "Shallow," and an on-stage kiss.
The show was punctuated by a few guest appearances. Burleson native April Beck – a friend of Kelly Clarkson — joined the band for several songs, as did members of the G-Men, a group of Nashville studio musicians Brooks has worked with since he began his recording career but who've seldom performed live with him.
The G-Men were responsible for the show's most unforgettable moments. When Brooks introduced fiddle player Rob Hajacos, telling him to look at the audience he’d helped build, Hajacos became visibly choked up. Later, G-Men guitarist Mark Casstevens, a Fort Worth native, innocently shuffled about the stage before playing the first four notes of "Friends in Low Places," steering the band into a rambunctious highlight of the show.
Before the song ended, Brooks revealed to the audience that the song's seldom-heard third verse was written in — where else? — Dallas.