When speaking of Garth Brooks, facts and figures tend to dominate the conversation.
Millions of albums sold, cementing his status as one of the most popular solo artists of all time; tickets sold by the truckload in a matter of moments — selling out the old Texas Stadium three times over in less time than it takes to drive from Dallas to Fort Worth — or enough hit singles to keep a radio station in business for years.
Something none of the statistics really account for is how and why the 53-year-old Brooks has endured, and how he’s able to command seven straight concerts at the American Airlines Center after being away from the North Texas market for 17 years.
The answer, however, is dead simple: joy.
Joy was evident everywhere you looked Thursday night, and nowhere moreso than on stage, in the face of Garth Brooks.
It was an ebullience you could practically reach out and touch — such a tangible thing, something welling up out of him, and flooding into a sold-out room of 16,000 people, all of whom were singing, weeping, snapping photos and making the venue fairly shake to its foundation.
That sensation — in the early moments, after he’d dispensed with the opener, Man Against Machine, and started dipping into the “old stuff,” as he called it, beginning with the rip-snorting Rodeo — felt almost like flying, a giddy release of pent-up energy, on both sides of the stage, for an artist who repeatedly professed jitters about returning to the scene of so many previous career highlights.
“Just between me and you: I was nervous as hell tonight,” Brooks confided at one point, and the gratitude for what are now multiple generations of fans was a constant refrain throughout the two-and-a-half hour show.
“The places you love the most are the [shows] you worry about the most,” Brooks said as the evening drew to its emotionally charged climax with The Dance. “I don’t think we’d have a career if it wasn’t for the home Dallas/Fort Worth has given all of us here.”
Such earnest sentiment found its counterweight in Brooks’ freewheeling goofiness — clowning around during Two Pina Coladas, or nearly stomping through the stage with glee during the electrifying Callin’ Baton Rouge — and the muscular, 10-piece band firing on all cylinders behind him.
Brooks was also grounded by the presence of his wife, Trisha Yearwood, whose own 20-minute set, which began with a smoldering spousal duet on In Another’s Eyes, felt almost like a collective catching of breath.
Her own smash hits hold up well — How Do I Live and She’s in Love with the Boy still sparkle — and the electric affection between Brooks and Yearwood carried over into a spontaneous moment, just the two of them, harmonizing on Yearwood’s Walkaway Joe.
His staging, fairly spartan by modern standards, owes as much to arena rock’s glory days as it does George Strait’s tasteful understatement. Brooks doesn’t hurtle around the stage as much as he once did, but no one could doubt his physical commitment — the singer-songwriter was flinging sweat from his brow three songs in.
It was a ferociously entertaining performance, a master’s class in dominating an arena and a thrilling showcase from a musician with nothing left to prove.
Garth Brooks has cemented his place in musical history — as any number of dumbfounding facts will attest — but the sheer vigor and vitality he possesses, pouring all he has into every note he plays, is what guarantees his songs will echo long after he passes from the stage.
Brooks performs two more shows Friday (7 and 10:30 p.m.); two shows on Saturday (7 and 10:30 p.m.), a single show on Sunday (7:30 p.m.) and his final American Airlines Center show is Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. For more information on each show, including transportation tips and set times, visit the AAC website.