Garth Brooks Live

Although there was little new in Garth Brooks' perf Thursday in front of more than 300,000 people in New York's Central Park, the country music bigwig nonetheless provided nearly two hours of nonstop entertainment. But the show wasn't as much about pleasing Brooks devotees as it was about exposing his music and rock-inspired road show to those who may be unfamiliar with it. And on many levels he succeeded.

With:
Garth Brooks, Dave Gant, Steve McClure, Mike Palmer, Jimmy Mattingly, Mark Greenwood, James Garver, Stephanie Davis, Debbie Nims, Jim Horn

Brooks originally planned to use the spec to launch a new album, but the restructuring at parent EMI precipitated his decision to put the release of his seventh studio album on hold until the corporate dust settled.

Veteran musicvideo helmer Marty Callner, known mostly for his work featuring rock acts using scantily clad models writhing to the tunes, called the shots for the 100-minute perf, delivering a rapid-fire — and at times dizzying — array of angles.

By mixing concert footage with healthy doses of closeups of a wide-eyed Brooks reveling in the crowd’s enthusiasm along with plenty of nighttime Manhattan skyline, views of the Hudson River and aerial angles of the massive crowd awash in colored light, Callner succeeded in capturing the excitement of the event.

Musically, all of Brooks’ chestnuts made the set list, including “The Thunder Rolls,” “Unanswered Prayers” and “The River,” among others.

A rousing version of Billy Joel’s “Shameless” — a Brooks tour staple — fittingly gave way to the piano man joining the country phenom onstage at the tune’s conclusion for a blistering reading of “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” a song for which Joel needed a TelePrompTer to keep up with the fast-paced lyrics.

Brooks and Joel then dueted on the latter’s nugget “A New York State of Mind,” resulting in an exemplary vocal exercise mixing Joel’s mastery with a snarling Brooks to create one of the evening’s apexes.

While Brooks’ concert version of “The Dance” — arguably one of the best songs penned in the past 20 years — always is a show-stopper with its poignant lyrics and haunting piano riffs, it was easily overshadowed by the set closer of “American Pie.”

Joined by the song’s scribe Don McLean for the final verses of the 1972 classic, Brooks smiled and gazed at his musical hero as the audience rallied behind the chorus.

Brooks scored a coup by landing McLean, as the scribe typically shuns performing that song — or even discussing its meaning. (In an interview, he once told Daily Variety he considers the track his Albatross).

Garth Brooks Live

Thurs.(7), 8-9:30 p.m., HBO

Production: Taped in New York by HBO Presentations. Executive producer, Garth Brooks; director, Marty Callner; producer, Jon Small; supervising producer, Douglas C. Forbes; lighting designer, Patrick Woodrufffe; sound, Chris Taylor.

Cast: Garth Brooks, Dave Gant, Steve McClure, Mike Palmer, Jimmy Mattingly, Mark Greenwood, James Garver, Stephanie Davis, Debbie Nims, Jim HornBilly Joel, Don McLean

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