Keith Urban’s concert at the Sprint Center on Friday put a fresh twist on the familiar joke about a hockey game breaking out at a fight.
Ostensibly a country artist, Urban retained just a few country elements in a daring performance dominated by myriad styles, including pop, soul, classic rock and electronic dance music.
Although the New Zealand native’s songs have been in regular rotation on the playlists of American country radio stations for almost 20 years, Urban has gradually drifted from the form. He scarcely bothers to register as a country artist on his new album “Graffiti U.” Urban’s two-hour-and-15-minute presentation at the first indoor show on the Graffiti U World Tour benefited from the audacious eclecticism.
Urban repeatedly tested the limits of the trust the members of the audience of about 15,000 placed in him. His genial presence and obvious affection for fans quelled any overt objections to his adventurous stylistic departures. Urban used binoculars to read handmade signs, invited a few admirers to the stage and exchanged high-fives with hundreds of devotees.
One of the boldest subversions of expectations was a radical overhaul of the hackneyed hit “Where the Blacktop Ends.” During a wild-eyed romp with Megan and Rebecca Lovell of the roots-rock duo Larkin Poe, Urban ran roughshod over the song’s clichés. An exemplary instrumentalist, Urban riffed like the guitar hero Eddie Van Halen on “Long Hot Summer.”
“Gone Tomorrow (Here Today),” a progressive rock selection in the vein of Genesis, was performed in a cage created by the mobile lighting and video rigs. The impressive production allowed a virtual version of vocalist Carrie Underwood to duet with Urban on “The Fighter.”
Yet the most remarkable aspect of the show was the emphasis Urban and his four-piece backing band placed on dance-oriented music. Reggae grooves powered “My Wave.” “Never Coming Down” possessed Prince-style funk, and “Days Gone By” resembled futuristic disco. “Drop Top,” a thumping song about carefree celebrants at the Coachella music festival, evoked Daft Punk. Extra dollops of soul were added to “Wasted Time” and “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.”
Country artists often incorporate elements of classic rock and pop into their performances. Friday’s startling show went well beyond the normal limits of genre-bending. Only an artist with Urban’s impeccable track record and deep bond with fans could get away with causing a soul-oriented dance party to break out at a country concert.
Set list: Never Comin’ Down; Days Go By; Coming Home; Somewhere in My Car; Long Hot Summer; Parallel Line; You Gonna Fly; Put You in a Song; We Were Us; Stupid Boy; My Wave/Lively Up Yourself; Somebody Like You/With or Without You; Wade in the Water; Where the Blacktop Ends; Love the Way It Hurts (So Good); Blue Ain’t Your Color; Drop Top; Cop Car; Slow Hands/Lights Down Low; The Fighter; Kiss a Girl/Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me/You Look Good in My Shirt; Gone Tomorrow (Here Today); John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16; Wasted Time; Kansas City; But for the Grace of God; Horses