Review by Thomas S. Orwat Jr., photo by Joe Suto
Buffalo, NY - The best selling music artist of all-time, Garth Brooks, returned to Buffalo, NY for the first time in 17 years. This evening's performance was the first of six sold out shows at the First Niagara Center. Brooks will be performing for over 100,000 people during this time period; an uncommon event of for the Buffalo, NY area. The last time anything like this occurred was... well, 17 years ago, when Brooks did multiple nights here, as well.
Brooks self-imposed exile from music started in the early 2000s, when he decided to concentrate on raising his young children with his second wife, country music hit-maker, Trisha Yearwood. But, he promised his fans that one day he would return. He kept his word, and late last year, to the delight of his millions of fans, he released a new, hit-filled, 14 track record entitled, ‘Man Against Machine,’ his first studio album since 2001's 'Scarecrow.'
The anticipation of Brooks’ return was at a all-time high all week long. When he finally did hit the stage, performing the title track form his new record, "Man Against The Machine," the arena erupted, and the diehard fans roared in approval. Brooks, who turned 53 on February 7, was in very high spirits. Although, he has admittedly put on some weight, he joked during the afternoon press conference that it takes a lot of work to maintain his 260lbs, he still performed with a ton of energy and passion. It's that energy and passion, coupled with a great catalog of songs, that makes Brooks the undisputed champion of the live performance.
"Remember Me?" asked Brooks after the the first song. He then procceeded with one of his many crowd pleasing classics, "Rodeo." Afterwards, he explained to the audience that he has been waiting all week to play in Buffalo. Brooks has a great ability to break down the barrier between performer and audience, he is unique in the way that he interacts and has the uncanny ability to turn a big, cool and steril areana into an intimate concert experience for 18,000 people.
Several times during this performance, the audience sang along loudly to the classic Brooks songs. "The River" and shortly afterwards, "Unanswered Prayers" were turned into audience karoke. Brooks stood on stage with a big smile as the audience hijacked the songs. Brooks explained early on that he was going to play a lot of the old stuff and that's exactly what he did.
Before the classic hit, "The Thunder Rolls," Brooks stated that he loved the song, partially because it took so long for it to become a successful hit song when it was released in the early 90's. He explained, that sometimes when you have to work hard to and it takes a while for a song to finally break as a single, it because a personal favorite. Brooks performance of this song was intense as any that he performed during the evening.
Right after, Brooks took a break from playing his classics to perform the first single from his new album, a track called - "People Loving People." Brooks told the audience that he can only watch the news for a few minutes these days before he gets upset, and has to switch the channel. He then explained that if we (the human race) are going to survive, it's up to all of us, to start respecting each other. During this song, Brooks acted like a kid with a new toy, twirling around and singing every word with emotion and passion, and the belief that a song can make a difference
Mid-way through the set, Brooks was joined by his wife and country music superstar, Trisha Yearwood. She joined him on their hit duet, "In Another's Eyes." The audience gave her a loud sign of approval. Afterwards, Brooks left the stage and Yearwood performed four of her mega-hit songs, and also a new one called, "PrizeFighter," which is the theme song for her charity breast cancer support group that she is involved in.
For Yearwood's biggest hit, "How Do I Live," Brooks returned to the stage, playing acoustic guitar in the background with the seasoned backing band, that consisted of members of both Brooks' and Yearwood's previous touring bands. The band included longtime Yearwood guitarist - Joe Garcia, and also Brooks' fiddle player-Jimmy Mattingly, bassist- Mark Greenwood, and drummer - Mike Palmer. Garcia especially shined on this evening, with his amazing guitar skills and a guitar tone that was a tastful combination of country and arena rock.
After Yearwood performed her final song of the evening, "She's In Love With The Boy," Brooks returned for the final half of his show. He soon played what he mentioned earlier as his favorite song to perform, "Callin' Baton Rouge." Then, before his first big hit, and the song that launched his career, "Friends in Low Places," Brooks joked that it was the only song in which he ws allowed to have his guitar plugged in for. "All the other songs, I was unplugged and just using it (his guitar) to cover my gut," laughed Brooks.
A stunning version of the massive chart topping, #1 song - "The Dance," followed. This song is country music's "Stairway to Heaven." "The Dance," according to Brooks, is his favorite song from his catalog. Judging from the crowd reaction, many feel the same way.
Brooks left the stage, but returned for a rowdy encore of Aerosmith's -"Fever." At this point, his stage came alive. The raisers for the drums and keyboards and steel guitars raised up, and Brooks clowned around on the moving stage walker.
He returned for a second encore, which consisted of four songs. For one of them, "Ain't No Sunshine," Brooks performed solo with just his acoustic guitar, dedicating it to a couple of audience members in the front row, who had just lost a loved one. The evening ending shortly afterwards, with a high energy performance of "Standing Outside the Fire."
Brooks sounded better, sang better, and played better than he ever did during his peak in the 90's.
Before this performance, many people in Buffalo were wondering, "How the hell can Garth Brooks sell out six consecutive shows?" Well, after seeing a Brooks performance, it is quite obvious. The only people that are still wondering that, are the few people in town that haven't seen a Garth show.
Setlist March 5, 2015
Man Against Machine
Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House
The Beaches of Cheyenne
Two Piña Coladas
Papa Loved Mama
Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)
The Thunder Rolls
People Loving People
In Another's Eyes (with Trisha Yearwood)
XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)
How Do I Live
She's In Love With The Boy
Callin' Baton Rouge
Friends in Low Places
Ain't No Sunshine
Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)
Standing Outside the Fire
Special thanks to Aron Gerson. Also, thank you to Dana Kaiser and Joseph Suto.
For more on Garth Brooks, visit - www.garthbrooks.com