From the way Garth Brooks stoked the crowd Friday night at a packed Sleep Train Arena, raising his hands to motion for more applause, you might think he was an egomaniac.
But too much evidence points to the contrary. In 2001, Brooks left the road while still in the thick of his super-stardom. He semi-retired to raise his three daughters in Oklahoma.
An egomaniac would not be able to leave the spotlight for so long.
What Brooks exhibited Friday, during the first of six Sacramento shows, was not narcissism but uninhibited joy. It is a joy often seen in young children but rarely in adults.
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It manifested itself in the gimme-more gesturing, and in Brooks roaming the stage to ensure he addressed every part of the audience – the first batch of the 95,000 people who bought tickets to his Sleep Train shows. The six-concert stint, which runs through Wednesday, marks Brooks’ first appearances in Sacramento since 1997, and his first stop in California on his 7-month-old world tour.
Fueled by Brooks’ desire to share his excitement, the audience exploded often. Everybody – from gray-haired grandpas to children who were not yet born when Brooks last played Sacramento – sang along to his 1990s hits.
Brooks opened with the clanging “Man Against Machine” title track from his 2014 album. The technology-as-tyranny lament might have made Brooks, 53, seem more like the grandpa he now is were it not so musically forceful and vibrant.
Then Brooks, a crowd-pleaser historically and on Friday night, announced that he knew people came for the old songs, and that he was going to supply a lot more of them than the new ones.
It is unusual for a big musical act to play for more than one night in Sacramento. Most show reviews, therefore, are postmortems.
But since Brooks is playing five more shows, including two Saturday, I will not spoil the experience by revealing too many details about which songs he played and when he played them.
Know that he played my favorite (“Shameless,” which sounds more understated live than on record, at least until Brooks goes diaphragm-deep on the line “I’ve never been in love like this!”). He probably will play yours, too.
Brooks’ voice has maintained the youthfulness that set him apart from more seasoned-sounding contemporaries like Alan Jackson. And despite telling Friday’s audience that he is now “113 years old,” Brooks also seemed physically spry.
Dressed in a chambray shirt, jeans and boots, he jumped from a riser to the stage. He also climbed the illuminated sphere that housed drummer Mike Palmer’s kit – the most elaborate aspect of the show’s straightforward set.
The concert lasted more than 21/2 hours. It included a short set from Brooks’ wife, Trisha Yearwood, that provided a breather for Brooks and for audience members winded by Brooks’ constant demands they holler.
Yearwood is more reserved than her husband but shares with him a down-home quality (as she performed, the video screen behind her showed clips from her Food Network show “Trisha’s Southern Kitchen”) and that vocal youthfulness. Her hit “She’s in Love With the Boy” sounded as fresh Friday as it did in 1991.
Brooks played guitar behind Yearwood as part of the show’s 11-piece band (including backup singers).
Brooks has played with most of his band for more than 20 years. Yet no aspect of Friday’s show seemed dated. Not the playing, which was tight, nor Brooks’ older songs, which have lost no luster over time.
Although Brooks introduced arena-rock guitars and drums to country in the ’90s, he rooted his songs in tradition, and they wear well.
To better understand how well, hang out in the Sleep Train Arena parking lot before one of Brooks’ shows. On Friday night, tailgaters were blasting current country hits as they sat in lawn chairs, sucking on beers.
Those songs sounded bland compared with Brooks’ old hits, and also when compared with several new songs off “Machine.”
Brooks’ comeback feels not just pleasurable, in allowing us to enjoy this consummate entertainer once again, but perhaps also necessary.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
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