Keith Urban at the Palais
Photo by Linda Di Nola

This was a show with a difference - a brace of banjos, dobro, accordion and acoustic guitar doubling as a beat box.

Welcome to country music in the new millennia.

Sure, there's nothing subtle about playing Beatles hit I Wanna Hold Your Hand over the P.A. before a triumphant return of expatriate Australasian country superstar Keith Urban.

Urban Mania was the capacity crowd reaction to an artist whose country rock hybrid has earned him album sales of five million plus.

The garrulous guitar slinger kicked off his energised workout with an acoustic cameo from These Are The Days before a full blown delivery of Days Go By - the first #1 hit from fifth album Be Here.

Urban's anthemic celebration of life ignited an inspired flood of nostalgia, hedonism and escape from jagged edges of broken hearts.

Long ignored by radio here, the Blundstone booted singer has a fitting formula to drag fans from way beyond the city limits.

This organic Horse of Troy invaded walls with rock theatrics without alienating rural fans unencumbered by city fads.

Urban is a master communicator with a well-practised eye contact, stage strutting and audience interaction.

And, of course, his guitartistry is something that peers and critics would kill for.

He punctuated embryonic hit Walk In The Country and Better Life, with sweet solace of Raining On Sunday.

By the time he reached new #2 U.S. country hit You're My Better Half band members swapped guitars for banjos that were more audible than dobro or accordion.

Urban covered Where The Black Top Ends and generic seventies pop ditty Jeans On but best response was originals You Look Good In My Shirt, Who Wouldn't Wanna Be Me, Somebody Like You and Ranch era tune Homespun Love.

A decade on the tough international circuit meant prime pacing with ballads - But For The Grace Of God, Be Here, You'll Think Of Me and solo piano on Tonight I Wanna Cry a contrast.


It didn't hurt that Urban included co-writes with Rodney Crowell on What About Me and You Won and Crowell tune Making Memories Of Us.

His crowd chant of Tom Petty tune Free Falling was ballast but not U2's Beautiful Day - segue to exuberant finale These Are The Days.

Urban, booked to perform the Logies, mines the melancholia motherlode of the past but frocks it up with style to bend boundaries of a genre once destined to blow flies and billabong backblocks.

And, with irony, the audience sang along to songs heard in the privacy of their homes or on TV.

Certainly not mainstream radio - a genuine triumph.

Urban proved what most of us have known for almost two decades - he is the biggest expatriate Australasian international country success story of our times.

photo by Linda Di Nola

His gutsy decision to decamp this murky radio backwater more than 15 years ago to tackle the biggest market has been validated.

Urban opened the door for peers diverse as Kasey and Bill Chambers, Catherine Britt, Jedd Hughes, Greencards, Kylie Sackley, Adam Harvey and Audrey Auld.

And, with a little help from fellow expatriates Sherrie Austin and Jamie O'Neal, he has lifted the profile of artists ignored in their homeland.

It's ironic that Urban's success has caused collateral damage to some envious peers and cheerleaders for faux country failures.
But that's not the only battlefield where friendly fire can be more dangerous than the enemy within.

Urban has risen way above the comedic dorks who still refer to the genre as Country & Western and are prisoners of city fashion and folly.

< photo by Linda Di Nola

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