Garth Brooks Is In Concert At The Encore In Las Vegas & We Are Lucky To Have HIm
Here in Las Vegas there seems to be a cultural imperative to categorize everything. The shows, restaurants, shops, etc., that win the daily paper's annual "Best of Las Vegas" votes tout their wins by putting the daily paper's logo on their billboards, windows and, in fact, any place where it might be seen. I don't know what it means to the bottom line or prestige or anything. But they make a big deal out of it.
Phantom: The Las Vegas Experience, for example, has won for best show. And Phantom deserves it. This is a fully redesigned, reimagined production that fits the imperatives of playing in Las Vegas and takes advantage of the possibilities of reimagining (and restaging) the piece. This year, while he may not be the "best singer" compared to such voices as those belonging to Andrea Boccelli and Tom Jones — both of whom bring their awesome sound to the city with some regularity — Garth Brooks' show deserves the title of "Best Concert."
As Phantom was reimagined and restructured, Brooks has taken the act he did for many years on the road and, in preparation to a 2014 resumption of touring when his youngest daughter graduates from high school, is rebuilding the act from the ground up.
Thus, on the stage of the Encore Theatre, Brooks appears with just his guitar and, perhaps, the occasional guest.
Garth Brooks has the knack of drawing the audience in, of seemingly speaking from his heart and quietly conversing, even in a theater filled with 1,500 people. The person I went with quite correctly said, "I felt like I was sitting in his living room with a few friends while Garth played and sang and talked."
He begins by explaining the premise of the show — "It's all about me growing up. Like I ever did." — and started with a sound check (singing Wildfire). Then, recalling his dad's love for Merle Haggard he sang a bit of Haggard's Rough and Rowdy Ways. Brooks did his own hits from the first one he recorded, Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old, and paid tribute to the two Georges he admires so much, Strait and Jones.
He sang Amarillo By Morning and A Fire I Can't Put Out from the Strait songbook and, from Jones', He Stopped Loving Her Today and The Race Is On.
Between songs he talked about how he's "so excited" to be doing this gig — five years, 300 or so performances on weekends — and thanked his audience because "you've always let me be me." Quoting a performer who said he'd "sing for his supper," Brooks laughed and said, "Well, the plane (given him by Steve Wynn to aid in his commuting) helped, too."
A bit later he wished everyone a Merry Christmas, adding that the wish is for everyone, even those who don't celebrate the holiday. "When I say 'Merry Christmas' it means I love you," he said.
Brooks said he doesn't like to think of this time at Wynn as "coming out of retirement. It's a time to come slowly back into music. I'm just getting ready for the second half of my life."
Going back to the beginning of his career at Willie's Saloon in Stillwater, OK, where he attended Oklahoma State, Brooks explained that he began by playing requests.
Working at Willie's he learned to love the music of James Taylor and spoke movingly of the time he was asked to be on VH1 Honors with Taylor. At the time, he had one child, his oldest girl, who was named Taylor after....well, you know who. Anyway, by the time Taylor had greeted Brooks, his then-wife Sandy and Taylor he was, he recalls, totally moved. So moved, in fact, that when he was unable to at first sing a simple line from a Taylor song.
Here, too, he plays requests as a regular part of his show. A couple of requests momentarily stymied him. On Billy Joel's Shameless — from the album Storm Front, which Brooks said is "as great as Boston's Boston — for example, Brooks noted that he usually let his band handle the music and he doesn't know how to play it on his guitar. (At his press conference before his opening he smiledand called himself "an idiot" on the guitar.) Thus, he sang it a capella and, when that was greeted with a roar of approval, he said that's how he'll do it from now on. He also had a good time — and some audience help — with Joel's anthemic Piano Man.
At that same press conference, by the way, he characterized his show as being crafted to appeal to people his age (late 40's) and his father's age. Not so. The age range was broad and everyone seemed to enjoy it all.
He was joined on stage by his wife, Trisha Yearwood. She sang She's In Love With the Boy and Walk Away Joe. It was a very nice interlude.
Of course, Brooks sang his hits, finishing the night with Friends In Low Places and The Dance. (I know The Dance; know the lyrics and have heard it many time. I didn't even realize it but, hearing it sung by Garth Brooks in person brought me to tears. And I was not the only one who responded that way. Just beautiful.)
Barry Manilow's show over the past few years has been smilarly autobiographical, a musical journey through his career. And Manilow's show is lots of fun. But Brooks' takes it a step further with the intimacy of the piece. Other performers might take a hint from him and do the smae — just the songs and guitar (or guitar player or piano or....well, you know what I mean.)
Garth Brooks shares a bit of his world with his audience and the audience members feel very privileged to be let in, even if it's only briefly. It is this connection with the audience that makes his show extra special.
So, of course, go see Garth Brooks at Steve Wynn's Encore. A couple of cautions: On Saturdays, if you go to the 10:30 show, rather than the 8 pm show, you might see a longer set as, at the late show, there isn't the time imperative to end there is at the early show. Also, as popular as they usually are, don't get aisle seats. The ushers, trolling for pirates who are recording the show or taking photos, walk up and down the aisles and shine their blue flashlights at offenders. It is annoying. Finally, the people near us all agreed that theater's management should take a page from the book of other theaters and the ballet not alow anyone into the theater during a song. There were people who showed up at 8:45 for an 8 pm show, walking in during a song and way too much walking back and forth. If someone leaves to use the restroom he or she should have to wait for the end of a song to reenter the theater. All this walking around proved to be very distracting and is easily fixed.
Garth Brooks is at Encore on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights at 8 pm and on Saturday there's another show at 10:30 pm. The schedule of weekends when he's appearing varies. Check for tickets and information at www.encorelasvegas.com/index.cfm#/entertainment
From This Author Ellen Sterling