You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Garth Brooks Charms Forum Crowd With L.A. Traffic Jokes, Onstage Baby Christening

Garth Brooks had a mission when he took the stage at the Forum on Friday night, his first of four concerts to be held at the venue: to prove Los Angeles was a country music friendly town.

Already the biggest-selling solo artist of all-time, and currently completing the third year of his tour with wife Trisha Yearwood, it had been 21 years since he last played the iconic arena — not counting a television special he taped there during the nineties — and he wanted to make this memory last. Not just for himself, but for the thousands in attendance happily crossing off “Garth at the Forum” from their bucket list.

After a short, spirited opening set by singer-songwriter Mitch Rossell, followed by a well-received, more energetic performance by Karyn Rochelle, Brooks arose from a stage sphere surrounding drummer Mike Palmer and immediately took charge. His rousing version of “Baby Let’s Lay Down And Dance” flowed into “Rodeo” then “Two Of A Kind,Working On A Full House.” By the time Brooks next introduced his self-described first old cowboy song, “The Beaches  Of Cheyanne,” it was clear the L.A. welcome was genuine. To wit: at no time during his and Yearwood’s performance did either have to ask the enthusiastic crowd to sing along.

Brooks looked bemused during “The River,”not to be confused with the Bruce Springsteen or Joni Mitchell song, as the room filled with the lights of cell phones. He also appeared surprised that more women were wearing cowboy hats than men. But like the musical manipulator he is, Brooks segued seamlessly into his bar anthem, “Two Pina Coladas,”and the audience raised their drinks in salute. If ever there was a mash-up that needed to made, it would be Brooks crossed with Jimmy Buffett.

Two  upbeat songs later, Brooks sang his first ballad,  the poignant “Unanswered Prayers,” and the moment became heavy with emotion, intensified by a chorus of stellar background vocalists (Robert Bailey, Vicki Hampton and opener Rochelle) along with his excellent longtime band.

What’s special about Brooks’ music in part is how it’s not traditional country. There’s no twang or a romantic pity party theme in his songs. If anything, performances of “That Summer” and the anthemic “Friends In Low Places” showed Brooks’ sensibility to be that rare hybrid of pop and traditional country influences. (When the extremely affable entertainer was growing up in rural Oklahoma, his favorite musicians were Kiss and James Taylor.)

Brooks appeared to challenge himself when he introduced his biggest hit, “The Thunder Rolls” as, “The song I don’t want to mess up because a lot of you went through a lot of slow traffic just to hear this one song.” What followed was a a visual spectacular and one of Brooks’ strongest vocals. Brooks stalked the stage like Mick Jagger and played the guitar with the intensity of Keith Richards as if both were trading licks on “Midnight Rambler.” (The ten-disc Garth Brooks Collection, which includes his new album “Gunslinger,” has one disc devoted to covers of pop classics written by Billy Joel, Bob Seger and Elton John, among others.)

Then, in a perfectly paced moment, Yearwood debuted on stage, while her husband retreated for five songs. Yearwood’s winning personality, considerable vocal skills and evident joy at being there resulted in the crowd instantly embracing her. When Brooks returned for a duet with Yearwood, the ballad “In Another’s Eyes,” their chemistry was electric. (Before the end of the show, both performers would comment — without rancor — on L.A. being perceived as anti-country.)

The moment when Brooks’ charm hit its apex came when he saw a young couple holding up a handmade sign and brought them to the side of the stage. The pregnant woman handed him a sealed envelope containing the sex of her future child, then explained that, regardless of its gender, Brooks would be its name. Brooks, himself a father of three girls, opened the envelope and the audience applauded at the future arrival of a baby girl. Brooks said if he was still alive when the baby entered college he would pay for her education. As many members of the audience were stunned, perhaps thinking of their own outstanding student loans, Brooks cracked that, at his age of 84 (he’s actually 55), the child better grow up fast to get her reward.

For the encore portion of what clocked in as a 135-minute, 30-song show — Brooks again invited the audience to participate. As fans in the crowd held up signs bearing various song titles, he played snippets of the request on acoustic guitar, including Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” and the popular “The Change” and “Ireland.” He closed out the night with a solid rocker, “Standing Outside The Fire” — and not the kind you sit in at the age of 84.

More Music

  • Bette Midler

    Bette Midler to Perform on the Oscars (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” at the Oscar ceremonies on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. Midler, a longtime friend of composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman, will sing the song originally performed by Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The song, by Shaiman and his lyricist partner Scott Wittman, is one of five [...]

  • Kacey Musgraves, winner of the awards

    Kacey Musgraves to Present at the Oscars

    Hot off her album of the year award at last weekend’s Grammys, Kacey Musgraves has been tapped to present at the Oscars on Feb. 24, Variety has learned. She joins previously announced presenters Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Tina Fey, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Charlize Theron, Tessa Thompson, [...]

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • Panic at the Disco Concert Review

    Concert Review: Panic! at the Disco Brings Theatrical Flair to Forum

    At one particularly crowd-pleasing point during Panic! at the Disco’s show Friday at the Forum, Brendon Urie played the group’s cover of one of the “Greatest Showman” songs, from the recent tribute album devoted to that film, and it’s not hard to see why he would gravitate to the musical. Urie’s so much of a [...]

  • Ludwig Goransson Black Panther Composer

    Complete Guide to This Year's Oscar-Nominated Scores

    Unlike the song category, it’s impossible to predict the winner from this year’s quintet of original-score nominees. It’s almost anyone’s game. Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson spent a month in Africa recording unusual drums, flutes and vocals, then adding them to a massive London orchestra and choir to create a unique soundscape for the fictional land [...]

  • Oscars Best Song Nominees

    Complete Guide to This Year's Oscar-Nominated Songs

    This year’s crop of Oscar-nominated songs may be the most diverse in years: a ballad and a pop-rap from two of the year’s biggest films, plus a delicate lullaby from a Disney musical, a political themed anthem, and a novelty tune for singing cowboys. “Shallow,” the top-10 hit from “A Star Is Born,” is widely [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content