When Garth Brooks says he’s putting on a late show, he isn’t kidding.
Brooks’ second show at Philips Arena, slated for a 10:30 start, barely made the distinction of being a Friday night gig since the country megastar didn’t hit the stage until almost 11:40 p.m. and wrapped just before 2 a.m.
Reportedly, a technical glitch caused the 6:30 p.m. show to be delayed, resulting in a snowball effect.
Most of the sold-out crowd at the arena accepted the wait with minimal grumbling – after all, it’s been 18 years since he played Atlanta, so what’s another hour or so?
So were all of those inconveniences worth the wait?
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You could say so.
Brooks, with his trademark headset microphone and omnipresent cowboy hat, is an effortless showman, and for all of his rock-influenced bluster, he’s also an expert at making a cavernous arena feel small. He perfected that art of performer intimacy at his run of solo acoustic concerts in Las Vegas the past few years, and he’s absolutely masterful at toggling between the barn burning slickness of “Ain’t Goin’ Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)” and the restrained acoustic beauty of “Unanswered Prayers.”
Though Brooks has a new album coming Nov. 11 – a fact he announced earlier in the day at a press event at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite – he made only one detour into new material with the bland twaddle that is “People Loving People.”
But, as Brooks reminded the giddy and loud crowd – there will be five more shows between Saturday and next weekend before Brooks is done with Atlanta – fans want to hear the old stuff, and he and his top-notch band delivered with verve.
From the taut, muscular “Rodeo,” punctuated with those growly, Garth-ian “YEAHHHHH”’s, to the honkytonk swagger of “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” to the prayerful sing-along “The River,” Brooks had fans on their feet either pumping fists or swaying with lighted cell phones overhead.
Brooks is such a hammy showman that it was difficult to tell when his gaping at the crowd, hands on hips and eyes wide after nearly every song and exclaiming “Wow, really?!” was genuine surprise at the loving reaction to his return or the type of feigned shock we’ve come to associate with Taylor Swift at awards shows.
Most definitely genuine, however, was his misty-eyed response to “Unanswered Prayers” and his decision to segue into his tender version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” which was chill inducing in its simplicity.
For this world tour, which launched earlier this month in Chicago (for 11 shows) and will so far also visit Jacksonville and Lexington, Ky., Brooks has taken a cue from one of his idols, Billy Joel, by presenting his show with a clean, open-backed stage that allows fans a 360-degree view.
He worked every curve of the floor, sometimes sliding on the ground to take a selfie with a front-row admirer and other times cautiously climbing atop the lighted sphere housing drummer Mike Palmer.
Halfway through the concert, Brooks was joined by the Mrs. – the lovely Trisha Yearwood – for their gooey duet, “In Another’s Eyes,” which found them inching closer to each other from opposite ends of the stage until they wound up nose-to-nose at the ballad’s close.
Yearwood, who was celebrating her 50th birthday in her home state, took a solo turn with her perky hit from 1991, “She’s in Love with the Boy,” and “How Do I Live,” which she recorded the same year as LeAnn Rimes.
While the early performance Friday included a guest appearance from Kelly Clarkson, the new mom was likely tucked in by the late show.
But it was still a special night, as Brooks presented Yearwood with a birthday cake (in the shape of Georgia) and local-centric gifts, including a personalized Atlanta Braves jersey.
Returning to center spotlight for a visceral delivery of “Shameless” and eternal crowd-pleasers “Calling Baton Rouge” and “Friends in Low Places,” Brooks soon returned the focus to the solo power of a song and an acoustic guitar with “When You Come Back to Me Again” and George Strait’s “Amarillo By Morning.”
It’s impressive that Brooks, 52, can repeatedly handle these double-header shows; aside from a couple of moments when he needed to catch his breath, his energy never waned.
But it’s most striking that, even though he isn’t flying through the air anymore as he did in the ‘90s, he hasn’t lost a step on an arena stage.
Brooks and Yearwood perform again at 6:30 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday; and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 26-27. $71.50. Philips Arena, 1 Philips Drive, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
Staff writer Jaime Sarrio contributed to this story.