“I’m not big on social graces,” Garth Brooks sang during the highest of many high points in his Thursday night concert at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. This, of course, was a lie.
In his first performance in South Florida in nearly 20 years, Brooks went out of his way to make clear the joy he felt at reconnecting with his fans again, from the high-fives he gave the front row during the first notes of the opening song, “Man Against Machine,” to the humility and gratitude expressed near the end of the night: “Thank you, Florida. Thanks for reminding me what it’s all about.”
In between, when he wasn’t grinning and laughing, or touching his heart at again being drowned out by an audience sing-along, Brooks was all about having fun.
There he was, grabbing a camera to shoot video selfies with fans; and up there, the big screen above the stage showed him in the audience during a Kiss Cam montage (while wife Trisha Yearwood sang “She’s in Love With the Boy”); and late in the show he was flipping the cowboy hat he wore all night to a young boy beside the stage, or ad-libbing his encore based on signs held up by fans (they requested “Alabama Clay,” “A Friend to Me” and “Mom”).
Running more than two hours (Brooks hit his first note at 8:30 p.m.), the show that will be repeated in front of packed houses at the BB&T Center Friday and Saturday night is a test of stamina not just for Brooks (“I’m about 132 years old now,” he gasped), but for the audience, most of which spent the entire evening on their feet, singin’, huggin’, swayin’, hootin’ and hollerin’.
Brooks, whose blue western shirt was turned near black by sweat halfway through the show, made it tough for fans to sit by following through on his promise to let old favorites carry the night. The rollicking “Two of a Kind Working on a Full House” got things going early, and the honkytonk of “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” was a perfect antidote to the saccharine trifle “Two Pina Coladas.”
Brooks broke out the muscular “Shameless,” which featured a searing rock riff from his longtime guitarist Johnny Garcia and a memorable vocal from background singer Vicki Hampton. The fiddle-fueled “Calling Baton Rouge” was introduced as his “favorite song to perform,” and came with an old home movie that captured a young Brooks in some particularly scary shirts. “The Thunder Rolls” was also a sing-along hit.
Arguably the three most recognizable opening notes in country music sent the crowd into hysterics as Brooks offered a swaggering version of “Friends in Low Places” that, after some feigned anxiety, included the infectiously wicked third verse.
“Low Places” gave way to another major hit, “The Dance,” one of several ballads that proved Brooks can still summon a bright sweetness in his voice. Accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, Brooks’ version of “Unanswered Prayers” on Thursday night was particularly gratifying.
Brooks was backed by a tight seven-piece band and three background vocalists, nearly all of whom have performed with him since before his show at the Miami Arena in 1996, notably bandleader and keyboardist David Gant (whose delicate touch made “The Dance”) and lap-steel god Bruce Bouton.
The band performed on a wide uncluttered stage interrupted only by a few low platforms and a curious orb of lights in which drummer Mike Palmer was caged. The orb eventually raised off the ground, as did lighted platforms holding Gant and keyboardist Steve Cox, but just for one song during the encore, “Fever.” Perhaps a hydraulics issue that will be remedied by the weekend shows.
An engaging Yearwood performed several songs in the middle of the evening, showing off her impressive vocal firepower on two duets with Brooks, the Grammy-winning “In Another’s Eyes” and the poignant “Walkaway Joe.” Her romantic pop hit “How Do I Live?” inspired one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night, as guys in the room checked their phones.
IF YOU GO
Garth Brooks, joined by wife Trisha Yearwood, performs 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Jan. 15-16, at the BB&T Center, 2555 Panther Parkway, Sunrise. The opening act is singer-songwriter Karyn Rochelle. Tickets are $64.48. Call 954-835-7000, or visit Ticketmaster.com, TheBBTCenter.com.