Arts & Culture

Keith Urban lets the good times roll at American Airlines Center

Keith Urban performs at American Airlines Center on Oct. 14, 2016.
Keith Urban performs at American Airlines Center on Oct. 14, 2016. Special to the Star-Telegram

The mission was established early on: “Tonight is all about letting go of what’s outside!”

That battle cry, rallying the several thousand gathered inside American Airlines Center on Friday, was uttered by Keith Urban, he of the megawatt grin and dimples and chopped blonde hair tousled just so, late of American Idol judgedom, and fingers dancing over guitar strings in such a way as to make Eric Clapton’s heart go pitter-pat.

With all the chaos of the world safely stashed beyond the arena doors, the room, full of enthusiastic fans spanning the age spectrum, could get down to the business of having fun, something Urban made rather easy over the course of his 110-minute set.

His “Ripcord World Tour” has him jetting around the globe in support of his latest long-player, and it was evident, just from the first three songs, that Urban is, perhaps, finally finished pretending he’s a country artist.

Nashville in general has taken a drubbing in recent years for effectively making a farce out of country music.

The application of a fiddle or banjo or pedal steel to an otherwise straightforward pop or rock song does not necessarily country music make, and Urban, to his credit, more or less didn’t present himself as anything other than an arena rock act for his time in Dallas.

Indeed, his brand of country hearkens to the early 1970s, when country music and rock music mingled freely and no one paid much mind. (Urban and his bandmates evoked the Eagles — deliberately? — as they clustered around a microphone to sing a four-part, a cappella opening to Days Go By.)

Working a stage with brilliant LED lights and video screens, backed by four musicians and unable to hide his restless energy, Urban stomped his feet, shook his head, twisted his hips and grinned constantly, leaning into the sunny likes of Where the Blacktop Ends and Gone Tomorrow (Here Today) or retreating into the moody landscapes of Break on Me, Blue Ain’t Your Color or Cop Car.

While his affable charisma is appealing, it also undercuts his more sober songs — it’s tough to buy Urban’s bruised heart with so many (mostly female) fans around you fawning over his every move.

Still, Urban ticked every box on the modern arena checklist: Famous, pre-taped guests (Carrie Underwood and Pitbull); actual real-life cameos (openers Maren Morris and Brett Eldredge each returned during Urban’s performance); a satellite stage with a stripped-down set, where Urban, in what has to be a spendy twist, autographed his electric guitar and gave it away to a woman in the crowd; and extended crowd interaction, fulfilled when Urban pulled two young women from Oklahoma on stage and accepted their gift of a bracelet.

It was all breezy, inconsequential fun — just as Urban had promised early on — making Friday’s concert into the kind of evening that mustering strong feelings about is like working up the energy to hate sunny days or puppies.

Before Urban’s set, there was a triumphant 20-minute turn from one of North Texas’ own: Maren Morris.

The Arlington native has rocketed from relative obscurity to the cover of Billboard magazine and beyond over the last 12 months, releasing her major-label debut, Hero, earlier this year.

She worked through much of Hero on Friday, taming whatever nerves she may have been feeling — “I’ve been waiting this whole tour to play this date,” she observed, “[and] it’s an honor to be on this stage” — and doling out tart takes on tracks like Sugar, Rich and 80’s Mercedes.

The emotional high point of the entire night came when Morris began playing her hit single My Church: “When I wrote this song, I never thought I’d be playing it here,” she said as she strummed her acoustic guitar. With her family and friends watching from the audience, Morris sang with feeling and skill, until the emotions overwhelmed her near the end and she became too choked up to finish.

It was an undeniably moving moment, watching an artist who has been honing her craft from a very young age taking her confident next steps toward the superstardom that most assuredly awaits her.

Preston Jones: 817-390-7713, @prestonjones