Garth Brooks pi­lots fans to his uni­verse

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Randy Lewis

any num­ber of times Sat­ur­day dur­ing the fi­nale of Garth Brooks’ re­turn to the Fo­rum in In­gle­wood, the whole en­ter­prise felt like one of those old “Star Trek” episodes about a par­al­lel uni­verse where the nor­mal rules of physics — or con­cert-go­ing, any­way — had sud­denly been re­versed.

Chiefly, in this al­ter­nate di­men­sion, the thou­sands of peo­ple in­side the arena for the three-hour mu­si­cal marathon were the true stars of the show, and the guy whose name was lighted up on the mar­quee out­side was sim­ply the big­gest fan in the house.

That as­pect of Brooks’ savvy as an en­ter­tainer was a huge part of the rea­son he be­came the big­gest thing in the pop mu­sic uni­verse dur­ing his 1990s hey­day.

It also goes a long way to ex­plain­ing the rap­tur­ous re­cep­tion he’s re­ceived over the last three years since re­turn­ing to tour­ing af­ter a 13year hiatus, dur­ing which he fo­cused on rais­ing his three daugh­ters un­til they’d all gone off to col­lege.

Part of the art of a Brooks per­for­mance is the man­ner in which he chal­lenges fans to match his own adren­a­line level, which, on the 1-to-10 scale, pretty much starts at 10 and goes up from there.

“Peo­ple, peo­ple, peo­ple!” Brooks, 55, said early in the show, which lasted nearly till the stroke of mid­night. “You don’t think you can keep this up all night, do you?”

Nat­u­rally, the au­di­ence just roared back at him that much more vo­cif­er­ously.

Much has changed since Brooks last ruled the roost. Con­sider: The last time one of his tours reached the South­land, Tay­lor Swift was in first grade and the big Y2K scare — mil­len­ni­als, you can google it — was three years in the fu­ture.

Back then, it was fairly easy to dis­tin­guish coun­try mu­sic from hip-hop, and mu­sic fans were shelling out money to buy the records they liked.

What has not changed, how­ever, is the at­ti­tude that Brooks in­jects into the mix, now as then. Amid the fury of punk rock and rap, the angst of grunge, the self-re­flec­tive irony and sar­casm run­ning through rock and the cal­cu­la­tion be­hind so much of main­stream coun­try mu­sic, Brooks coun­ters with un­apolo­getic sin­cer­ity.

To this day, there’s no wink­ing of an eye when he sings a bal­lad as shame­lessly heart-tug­ging as “The Dance” or any­thing postAt

mod­ern in the un­bri­dled en­thu­si­asm he brings to a raveup like “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up).”

That’s the emo­tional ace up his sleeve, and he played it re­peat­edly through­out this show, which has been fine-tuned but not dra­mat­i­cally re­con­fig­ured since he launched his full-scale re­turn to mu­sic in 2014 in Rose­mont, Ill.

He’s calling the lat­est round of shows that be­gan in Jan­uary the Garth Brooks World Tour, rather than the Man Against Ma­chine tour af­ter the then-new stu­dio al­bum he’d re­leased to kick-start the whole she­bang.

Oth­er­wise, it re­mains built around Brooks’ cadre of coun­try-rock hits and his par­tic­u­larly ath­letic style of per­for­mance, which has been adopted by most coun­try acts who’ve fol­lowed, from Kenny Ch­es­ney to Luke Bryan, Ja­son Aldean and Eric Church.

Drum­mer Mike Palmer still oc­cu­pies his seat in the gy­ro­scopic cage that houses his kit, and the other band mem­bers and backup singers are af­forded a mo­ment in the spot­light.

Brooks hands over a cen­ter­piece chunk of about 30 min­utes to his wife, singer Tr­isha Year­wood, in which she taste­fully and pow­er­fully serves up a hand­ful of her hits.

The high­light of her por­tion of the show Sat­ur­day may have been her ren­di­tion of “Wrong Side of Mem­phis,” a soul-drenched song she said she didn’t sing of­ten but which came as a re­quest in the form of a sign held up by a fan.

That’s an­other facet that sets Brooks’ shows apart. The two-hour reg­u­lar por­tion of the show gen­er­ously sur­veyed what he re­ferred to as “the old stuff ” that he rec­og­nizes most fans are there to hear — from “The River,” “Two Piña Co­ladas” and “Papa Loved Mama” to “Unan­swered Prayers,” “If To­mor­row Never Comes,” “The Thun­der Rolls” and, of course, his av­er­age Joe an­them, “Friends in Low Places.”

But then he went solo for an ex­tended en­core seg­ment, tap­ping the vibe of his multi-year res­i­dency at the Wynn En­core theater in Las Ve­gas that was the only ex­tended in­ter­rup­tion in re­cent years of his time as a stay-at-home dad.

Again mak­ing the crowd the fo­cal point, Brooks en­cour­aged fans to hoist the home­made signs they’d brought, ex­hort­ing him to play a par­tic­u­lar fa­vorite. That al­lowed him to course through nearly a dozen more songs.

Cam­eras zoomed in on the fans whose re­quests had been cho­sen, from the guy in his 20s who’d asked for James Tay­lor’s “Sweet Baby James” to the young girl who asked for the rel­a­tively deep cut “That Girl Is a Cow­boy,” the ti­tle writ­ten on the other side of a plac­ard in­form­ing him that she was “8 Years Old and I’ve been to 5 Garth con­certs!”

Even af­ter fin­ish­ing the song that’s been con­clud­ing most of his 2017 con­certs, “Stand­ing Out­side the Fire,” for which he brought back the full band, nei­ther Brooks nor his fans could let go. So he grabbed an acous­tic gui­tar one more time and turned to one of the songs he’d loved grow­ing up, Don McLean’s “Amer­i­can Pie.”

You could quickly tell which line best con­nected with Brooks and his re­la­tion­ship to his au­di­ence as he sang, “And I knew if I had my chance / That I could make those peo­ple dance / And maybe they’d be happy for a while.”

For three hours on Sat­ur­day, at least, truer words were never sung — in this or any other galaxy.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

GARTH BROOKS ac­knowl­edges the crowd dur­ing his show at the Fo­rum in In­gle­wood on Sat­ur­day.

Luis Sinco Los An­ge­les Times

GARTH BROOKS is the fo­cal point as he per­forms with the help of his band and back­ing singers at the Fo­rum on Sat­ur­day night, a show that lasted three hours.

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