Garth Brooks was all over the Sprint Center Friday night: Sprinting across the stage from one side to the other; climbing aboard the jungle-gym shell that hosted his drummer; and distributing hand slaps and high fives to make sure the folks in the upper-most front rows were feeling his hospitality.
Nearly 10 years after he packed the place for nine shows in 10 days, Brooks returned to the Sprint Center on Friday night for the first of five shows this weekend. He will return next weekend for two more. All seven shows are sold out, though if you’re looking for a single seat in the upper levels for one of the dates, you might score a ticket.
Several times, Brooks reminded the sold-out crowd of nearly 17,000 that this was the “opening show” of the Kansas City tour, which was accurate, technically, but also a bit of a dodge. He and his band and his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood, have been on the road for this tour since 2014 and they have clearly waxed and polished their chops and rapport. Friday’s show was about as spotless as a show can go, disregarding the very occasional moments when the vocals needed a little more heft and edge.
Brooks would pledge that this night would be devoted to old songs and greatest hits, but he opened with something new: “Baby, Let’s Lay Down and Dance,” a single from “Gunslinger,” his 10th studio album, released in October. He jumped from there back 26 years, to “Rodeo,” a track from his “Ropin’ the Wind” album, one of his earliest and most successful albums.
Brooks turned 55 in February, but he shows few signs of slowing down or conceding anything to the music world that is having trouble figuring out what to do with stars like him who have breached the gloaming of their careers. At this point, Brooks has little to worry about. He has managed to sustain the heart, sincerity and stamina needed to present a two-hour-plus show that quakes with energy and emotion.
The highlights came early and often. Brooks tested the crowd a few times, daring them almost to show off their familiarity with his older material by singing along. His challenge was met every time, even, as it turned out, with some new material.
Those older songs generated an abundance of energy and participation, songs like “Beaches of Cheyenne” and especially “The River,” which crescendoed into a visceral gospel anthem. He changed the mood after that with “Two Piña Coladas,” a frivolous party anthem with an inescapable fusion of melody and groove; and “Papa Loved Mama,” one of the more joyous murder ballads you’ll ever hear.
After detonating the room with a high-ballistic version of “The Thunder Rolls,” Brooks turned the stage over to Yearwood, who spent several songs demonstrating why she’d been a major-label country star in the mid- to late-1990s. Her six-song set included a few of her biggest hits, like “XXX’s and OOO’s,” the R&B/ soul track “How Do I Live” and “She’s In Love With the Boy,” which never fails to deliver a gust if sugary appeal. Yearwood also performed the title track to “PrizeFighter,” which she dedicated to “kicking cancer’s ass.” She ended her set with one of her biggest hits, “She’s In Love With The Boy,” during which the enormous video screen hosted an episode of “kiss cam” (and some of the chosen couples indulged lustily).
Brooks and Yearwood introduced not only the members of the band but also members of the road crew, one of whom flashed a Chiefs logo, igniting a long, huge cheer, and another who wore a Royals cap, instigating a rousing “Let’s Go, Royals” chant. Many of his band mates and roadies have been with Brooks for more than a quarter century, a testimony to his abiding sense of friendship and loyalty.
After his cover of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” and a rabble-rousing rendition of “Callin’ Baton Rouge,” Brooks strapped on an acoustic guitar, half-apologized for his lack of ability, and strummed the opening chord to “Friends In Low Places,” sending the place into a state of molten euphoria. The subsequent sing-along shook the place.
He closed the first set with “The Dance,” a gooey and sentimental breakup ballad that prompted more than a few couples in the place to slow-dance romantically.
He opened his encore by thanking the crowd for its patience and patronage and for staying late: “I know some of you got up at 5 a.m., took the kids to school and went to work,” he said before advising them that, nonetheless, they were “going to be here a while.”
Then, solo-acoustic, he went on a cover odyssey that paid homage to some of his favorite artists and influences, including Keith Whitley (“Don’t Close Your Eyes”), Randy Travis (“Three Wooden Crosses”), George Strait (“Amarillo By Morning”) and Merle Haggard (“The Fighitn’ Side of Me”). His band re-joined him for yet another greatest hit, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old),” then Yearwood joined him for a stellar version of the George Jones/Tammy Wynette duet, “Golden Ring,” a highlight of the evening.
They followed that with a duet of their own, “Whiskey to Wine,” a lament about the difference between passion and love (“We’re no good together / But it’s sure as hell better / Than going forever from whiskey to wine”).
Brooks and the band closed the night with “Standing Outside the Fire,” a ballistic anthem from his “In Pieces” album, an ironic choice because the entire night felt like being inside a force that was as volcanic as it was joyful.
Baby Let’s Lay Down and Dance; Rodeo; Beaches of Cheyenne; The River; Two Piña Coladas; Papa Loved Mama; Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up); Unanswered Prayers; To Make You Feel My Love; That Summer; Ask Me How I Know; The Thunder Rolls; In Another’s Eyes; XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl); How Do I Live; PrizeFighter; The Song Remembers When; She’s In Love With the Boy; Shameless; Callin’ Baton Rouge; Friends In Low Places; The Dance. Encore: Don’t Close Your Eyes; Three Wooden Crosses; Amarillo By Morning; The Fightin’ Side of Me; Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off; Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old); Walkaway Joe; Golden Ring; Whiskey to Wine; Standing Outside the Fire.