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In Music Reviews

Garth Brooks stormed the BMO Harris Bradley Center stage Friday night. (PHOTO: Jessica Frericks)

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood team up to bring down the house

I've been sitting in my car for the last hour trying to start this review with something other than a swear word or something totally 16-year old girly like, "OH MY GOSH!"

Seriously. An hour.

I give up. Because Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood? On the same stage. At the same time. Together. They're like an epic version of peas and carrots ... on steroids.

So instead of trying to describe it, I'll just tell you what happened that made their Friday night show at the Bradley Center so off the chain.

The evening's opener, Karyn Rochelle – a long-time singer-songwriter who's written songs for Yearwood and Kellie Pickler – was outstanding. Her voice was beautiful. She did a quick four songs.

And then Garth blew on stage with all the energy and fury (in the best way) of an category 5 tornado. His set started with two songs in quick succession, "Man Against the Machine" and "Rodeo." Both songs ramped up the already frenzied crowd.

After that, he paused to shout a giant, "Hello Milwaukee!" and he never let up. Even when he was gassed and panting, he was still making the packed house roar. Really. I'm not kidding. All the man had to do was pull a finger gun, and the audience went bananas.

He utilized every single inch of the stage, set up so that he could play to the entire Bradley Center, all 360 degrees of it. He looked truly like a man filled to excess with the joy of the work he gets to do. He sang his tail off and his heart out.

And then just when you thought the show couldn't get any better, Garth started singing, "In Another's Eyes." Even before Trisha Yearwood hit the stage – and even though she wasn't on the ticket – the audience knew what was coming and starting screaming for her.

Yearwood's five song set was just as crazy as Garth's first set. She didn't bounce all over the stage, but she didn't need to either. She was brilliant. Her pipes have only gotten better with time. She doesn't need any backup singers to support her. Her voice is as powerful and soulful as it was 10 years ago. She included four of her tried and true hits, like "How Do I Live" and "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)." She also brought out her new song "Prizefighter" as a tribute to anyone who's ever battled or is battling cancer. It's a killer song about persevering against all odds.

When she sang her last song, "She's in Love with the Boy," Brooks returned to the stage and played acoustical guitar. It took a while for the crowd to realize he was there. When they did, the house came down ... again.

Brooks took over from there, laying down his second set and encores with even more energy than the first set. It's hard to believe that Brooks has been out of the touring game for so long. He hasn't lost a step, though he quipped at one point that his guitar wasn't turned on, "It's just there to hide my gut."

Many times throughout the show, Brooks expressed his deep gratitude for the fans and for being allowed to do what he loves after taking a hiatus. In response to a fan sign about him retiring, he quipped, "Don't worry, my retiring days are over!"

Earlier in the day, the pair held a pre-concert press conference. Brooks described Milwaukee's country music fans in one word: surprise. As in, you don't think of Milwaukee as one of the cities with the greatest country music fans. But when you get here, you're surprised. They know every word of every song. And tonight, they did. Every word. Every song.

Brooks has been a mainstay in country music since the early '90s. While racking up Number 1 hits (25 of them), awards, certified diamond, triple and double platinum albums, he has become the all-time top selling solo artist in U.S. history.

Yearwood, too, has been a mainstay in the business since her debut Number 1 single "She's in Love with the Boy" in 1991. She's garnered a total of nine Number 1 hits and three Grammys, not to mention built a very loyal, very large contingent of fans.

The pair announced their planned hiatus from touring and recording in 2005 in order to focus on family. It seems so crazy, right? To step out of the limelight when your careers are flying high – especially since the music business is so "what's hot right now." But Yearwood and Brooks were resolute in their decision. If anything, they've earned the ultimate respect for not only being able to put their family first, but for actually doing it.

But here's the thing: A lot has happened in country music since their 2005 retirement – including bro-country becoming the predominant format. At the press conference, Brooks pondered whether you could even call the country music business a business anymore. Then there's SaladGate spotlighting the intentional lack of airplay for female country artists.

In a one-on-one interview, Yearwood described that lack of radio play in disbelief, saying, "I don't believe female fans don't want to hear females sing." She's found a way to get her music heard through the tour and her cooking show. But she says that the biggest thing for her is "encourage young female artists to not be discouraged."

So given all of that, perhaps Brooks and Yearwood have picked the exact right time to return.

In doing so, they stand as a stark reminder not only to the industry, but to fans new and old that country music is so much more than a bunch of partying, bikini clad, country girls riding in pickup trucks. Their return may be the much needed spark that ignites the turning point country music needs to stay vital.

Brooks and Yearwood have noted that their concert revenues are up 120 percent from the 1996-97 world tour. Two million tickets have been sold.

So whatever the future, whatever the meaning, what is clear is that the "now" of the country music business is being shown that the old (with a little bit of new sprinkled in) is what the fans want ... desperately.

Brooks and Yearwood have two more shows in Milwaukee on Saturday.

Get there. It's so worth it.

"Man Against the Machine"
"Two of a Kind Working on a Full House"
"Beaches of Cheyenne"
"The River"
"Two Pina Coladas"
"Papa Loved Mama"
"Ain't Goin' Down (Til the Sun Comes Up)"
"Unanswered Prayers"
"That Summer"
"Thunder Rolls"
"In Another's Eyes" – Trisha Yearwood and Garth Brooks
"XXX's and OOO's" (An American Girl)" – Trisha Yearwood
"How Do I Live" – Trisha Yearwood
"Prizefighter" – Trisha Yearwood
"She's in Love with the Boy" – Trisha Yearwood with Garth Brooks on acoustic guitar
"Callin' Baton Rouge"
"Friends in Low Places"
"The Dance"

Encore 1
"The Fever"

Encore 2
"Which One of Them"
"Burning Bridges"
"Red Strokes"
"The Change"
"Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old"
"Standing Outside the Fire"


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