Making the anaerobic climb from the Red Rock parking lot to the seating area on Aug. 30, I was struck by the huge number of semis and tour busses lining the roadside. And it soon became clear why. Keith Urban’s Light the Fuse tour includes one of the largest stage productions I’ve seen at Red Rocks.
The night began with the tight, four-part harmonies of Little Big Town, which delivered a polished, energetic set that featured a welcome diversity of pace and tone. Citing this performance as a box now checked off the band’s bucket list, it displayed a sense of awe and enthusiasm to be playing the venue for the first time. Highlights of Little Big Town’s set included a strong cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” as well as “Front Porch Thing,” “Tornado” and “Boondocks.” Little Big Town’s polished performance, strengthened by the dynamic light show, hinted that bigger things are on the horizon and they appear on the verge of breaking into a new level of popularity.
After a brief staging change, Keith Urban unassumingly emerged playing a banjo to an instrumental backing track that eventually was overtaken by his progressively appearing band. They rolled smoothly into “Long Hot Summer” then followed it up with the upbeat radio hit, “Sweet Thing,” which featured an extended melodic guitar solo.
With country music overwhelmed by clichés and generic artists, the long haired Aussie has managed to distinguish himself from the pack with something he displayed throughout the night — outstanding musicianship. In addition to Urban’s sporadic flashes on the lead guitar, everyone in his band had a chance to demonstrate their playing prowess when their name was introduced. Urban’s longtime skins pounder and musical director Chris McHugh demonstrated why he’s long been on the a-list of Nashville studio drummers.
Sitting at the top of the venue, however, it was difficult to fully appreciate the music because of annoying, chronic phasing problem that made the sound go in and out throughout the night. I don’t know if that can be faulted to Urban’s tech crew or the acoustics of the cheap seats, but it certainly dampened the sweeter spots of the performance.
Urban will probably recall this show in the weeks ahead — not for the dreamy stage view, but for the nightmarish stage gaffe he committed when attempting to praise the show opener he said, “How about that Dustin Lynch?” The only problem was, Lynch didn’t play on tonight’s show. Urban sheepishly countered the confused looks by stating he got to the show late. He reclaimed lost ground when, in response to a sign held up in the audience, he called up on stage an overwhelmed cancer survivor and her husband. Urban warmly hugged her as she removed her wig to the delight of the sold out crowd.
Despite the tepid response to his “Go Rams!” cheer, Urban solidified the crowd’s approval by playing “Rocky Mountain High” and “Once in a Lifetime” from a wireless mic set up in the middle of the seats. The fans were forgiving and eager to hear the hits like “Better Life,” “Somebody Like You” and “Days Gone By.” Little Big Town joined him on stage for “You Gonna Fly” and the crowd warmly responded to a new track, “Even the Starts Fall 4 You,” which had strong graphical support supplied by the huge video screen backdrops.
Ending with “You Look Good in My Shirt,” The Light the Fuse tour was a refreshingly clean show that felt more like a date night than a beer night, with a welcome emphasis on the music.
Alan Cox is the president/creative director of Cox Creative, a Highlands Ranch-based creative shop. He works too much, sleeps too little and spends every free moment coaching baseball, shooting images and hanging out with his rowdy sons and rowdier wife. Check out his photos here.
Steve Hostetler is a Denver-based photographer and new contributor to Reverb.