Novocastrians love live music but they don’t always show it. We can be reserved at times – or not venture out at all, even when big name acts are in town (why is that?). But, happily, that was not the case at Newcastle Entertainment Centre last night when Keith Urban came to play. The big ol’ shed was jumpin’.
But first, Julia Michaels. What a talent she is. She bounced on stage in a T-shirt dress and sneakers and kept bouncing and twirling throughout her set but don’t let that or her occasional high-pitched giggle fool you – this woman is an insanely talented singer and songwriter who has penned lyrics for the likes of Justin Bieber (Sorry), Selena Gomez (Bad Liar, Hands To Myself), Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran, Fifth Harmony, Nick Jonas, Maroon 5, Hailee Steinfeld, Shawn Mendes, Linkin Park, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Anne Marie and even Urban.
He gives her a shout out at the beginning of his set, thanking her for working with him on Graffiti U.
It’s a tough gig being the opening act at the best of times, when the venue is still half empty, let alone when you are opening for a crossover country artist in front of his devoted fans.
I winced for her at times as she energetically belted out song after song while most in the crowd had no idea who she was – or what she is capable of. Having said that, there were some in the crowd, mostly younger females, who gave Michaels the credit she was due.
She opened her set with the husky Pink, which must have had some country fans scratching their heads, followed by I Miss You and a song she wrote for the film 50 Shades Freed called Heaven. We were then treated to two new songs: Lucky and Worst In Me.
Michaels explained that the song was about living with anxiety and asked people in the crowd to raise their hand if they understood. With lyrics about saying yes to a social engagement and hoping it got cancelled; friends not understanding; and not being able to shut it off – no doubt many could relate.
She then performed the upbeat and very loud Uh-Huh before, as always, launching into a medley of hit songs she has written or co-written for other artists. It is then that the penny dropped for some in the audience.
“Oh, it’s her! I can’t believe she wrote this.”
Michaels then delivered the knockout blow with her final song, the wonderful Issues. The songs she keeps for herself, like Issues, are very personal to her. She can’t quite part with them – which is a good thing for us, because we get to hear her crystal clear, versatile voice and watch her gleefully spin from one side of the stage to the other, a huge smile on her face and her love for music radiating from within.
Then it was Urban’s turn. I was intrigued to find out for myself if his ability matched the hype. I mean, the guy is a superstar in the US, where its notoriously fickle music industry is one hell of a tough nut to crack if you’re not American. And we all know he is married to Nicole Kidman and their private life is subject to a paparazzi lens or three.
Thankfully, the hype is deserved. Urban is the real deal.
Kicking off his set with Never Comin Down and As Days Go By, he whipped the crowd into a frenzy. It’s difficult to believe Urban is 51 – he was full throttle from the get go and never slowed down – and the wolf whistles directed at him suggest that he is still easy on the eye for many a fan.
Michaels joined him for Coming Home and then he slowed down just enough to have a chat.
“Newcastle, hi! We made it back; it just took a little while. It’s great to see all of you out there on the floor. I’m sure I’ve been on the floor in Newcastle before, I think it was 2003 when I was touring with LeAnne Rimes.”
Spying a poster in the audience asking him to play at a couple’s wedding, Urban invited the fan on stage for a chat. She worked at Sportsgirl, Charlestown, and Urban proceeded to Facetime her fiance: a fitter and turner who had to get up at 4am for work, so was at home, shirtless, getting ready for bed. He broadcast the chat on the big screen.
Urban, you see, is the consummate performer. He knows what to say and when, what to sing and when. His set follows a pattern of light and shade; carefully selected songs arranged in deliberate order and switching from upbeat country pop-rock to solo ballads. Also, he is polite and personable with a cheeky sense of humour and makes sure to remind his fans of how important they are to him. Friendly and warm, people like him as a person as well as for his music.
The kind of guy you wouldn’t mind having a beer with down the pub.
Somewhere In My Car, Long Hot Summer and Parallel Lines prompted huge crowd singalongs, followed by Way Too Long and the hauntingly beautiful Stupid Boy. This song, with just Urban and a guitar bathed in golden light, seemed to have meaning for Urban. As for the crowd, you could hear a pin drop, they were so engrossed in the lyrics. Then Love Somebody got everyone up and jumping again.
There’s that light and shade at work again.
As impressed as I was with Urban’s voice, agility and considerable guitar ability, I was equally impressed with that of his band. All of them are multi-instrumentalists and all of them could sing – and sing well. As he introduced them, one at a time, they were given the opportunity to belt out a quick song of their choice. Wow. One of the guitarists had been with Urban since The Ranch days.
“Newcastle, while I’ve got your attention. If for some reason the power went out and the only way you could see the band was to …..”. His didn’t have to finish his sentence. Thousands of mobile phones were thrust into the air, torches glowing, and the venue’s lights were turned off. Urban then launched into a new song that they had “never played before” – it was Lie To Me, written by Michaels for 5 Seconds of Summer. She joined Urban on stage to sing it.
Good Thing was up next, then Blue Ain’t Your Colour, Drop Top, Cop Car and The Fighter, during which Urban walked through the crowd, high-fiving all the way, to a smaller rear stage where he sang Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me to the delight of fans up the back. He had a bit of fun with a Post Malone Jackie Chan interlude and gave his guitar to a stunned young woman in the audience.
John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16 and Wasted Time finished the set, and the inevitable encore was Horses.
“Thanks for being here. Thank you so very, very much Newcastle. It means more than you know,” said Urban to screams of appreciation.
No, Keith, thank you for adding Newcastle to your Graffiti U world tour. It had been a long time between drinks but it was well worth the wait.