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Brooks, more music, less talk is more filling

FleetCenter, Mass., April 17, 1997

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - The house was rocking Thursday, even though there was no rock band.

Country megastar Garth Brooks and all the accompanying maniaroared into Beantown for the first of six sold-out area shows with the fanatics on their feet for almost the entire 2 hour 20 minute show and Brooks himself in sheer ecstasy, apparently causing him to launch into verbal overload.

Brooks, coming to Boston for the first time ever in his eight-year career, probably couldn't tell the difference if he were playing in Dallas or anyplace else. The energy level was that high.

Brooks, part way through a three-year long world tour behind "Fresh Horses," absolutely had the crowd delivered into his hands from the start. The applause meter probably recorded record levels.

The opening proved to be one of the most visually appealing parts of the night. The lighting rig above the stage lowered with lights twirling about and then combined with another fixture to form a UFO looking object. Smoke came out and suddenly the music started with Brooks seemingly coming out of the piano on the appropos lead-off "The Old Stuff," a paean to shows in the old days before Brooks became Garth.

He stuck to his word to the crowd of offering songs from throughout his six-albums. Just as Brooks said he likes to hear the hits of George Strait and James Taylor when he sees them, he would do the same for his fans.

But Brooks was not simply content to turn into a human jukebox, churning out only the chart toppers.

The show possessed more of a country feel than his recent albums, which have lurched more towards country with rock and pop sensibilities. "Two of a Kind, Working on a Full House," for example, sounded like Garth recalling Hank Williams.

Many songs were acoustic based with Brooks himself leading the charge. Fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly was steller throughout the night, giving the music a decided country feel.

Brooks poured his heart into the songs with sentiment and energy on ballads ("The Dance," the final song of the regular set, a song that Brooks refers to as a "career" song and one, with little instrumentation, proving to be about the best of the evening, "Rodeo" or the sad "The Beaches of Cheyenne") or out and out rockers ("The Fever" the Aerosmith song with extra lyrics). While Brooks has been known to oversing, he did not this evening.

"Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," the story of an aging rodeo man, was a high point during the second and final encore. The high energy "Friends in Low Places" has not lost any of its charm over the years.

Not everything worked musically. A few numbers bordered on generic ("Ain't Goin' Down (Til The Sun Comes Up)," the first encore. Brooks' rendition of "Night Moves"in the second encore lacked the oomph and intensity of Bob Seger, an artist Brooks has long adored.

Brooks and his backing six-piece band rarely stood still. Known for his high energy performances, Brooks made excellent use of surroundings, moving every which way on stage, (including up a ladder on one song).

Although the music and musicianship were hit the mark, Brooks' stage antics quickly grew tiring. He fortunately did not engage in as much hand waving to the audience and picking of flowers and gifts as in the past.

When it came to yakking, Brooks may have obliterated the record. He ran from the mouth after almost each of the 22 songs. Brooks usually marvelled at the crowd. He certainly was impressed with the reaction, but the verbiage was a bit much. And it's hard to believe he could really be surprised at the response he received.

Unfortunately, the chatter diminished the effect of the music. Yet, the crowd did not seem to mind, cheering wildly for every move.

Brooks, however, did offer one humorous comment. Prior to the evning's closer, Don McLean's classic "American Pie," Brooks said it was a "song I didn't under as a child and as a grown up, I still don't understand it. I like it." As the crowd often did during the night, they sang along increasing the bond between artist and audience.

Brooks also had a cloying tendency to muster every last applause from the crowd. He often stood with the spotlight squarely on him after each number, remained there for awhile, leading to an even larger round of applause. Sometimes he would remove his cowboy hat or do a prolonged bow to the crowd, which yukked it up even more.

Brooks was at his best when he stuck to the music. More music. More filling.

And the house still would be rocking.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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