It isn’t every young superstar who can calmly step into the shoes of the Boss. Keith Urban had no problem Saturday night.
He took the same stage Bruce Springsteen had commanded Friday night and the thousands of country music fans that packed the Bryce Jordan Center, and made them both his own.
From the moment music began to beat in a darkness lit by digital camera screens held high overhead, the crowd was captivated. From biker guys and frat boys to the grandmother and granddaughter who stood side by side on floor seating chairs to take pictures, everyone was in the Aussie’s corner.
He started strong. His second tune was his smash “Days Gone By,” accompanied by rapid screen captures towering behind him: the Nittany Lion, Penn State, Joe Paterno’s iconic statue. He didn’t need to work that hard to get the crowd, but they certainly responded to it.
He varied his performance, from rock and roll with only a trace of Nashville through his soulful acoustic guitar pieces such as “Memories of Love.” That one was prefaced by a well-timed kiss for a long-suffering fan. “That’s a funny sign. Come up here,” he told her after strolling to a secondary stage at the back of the floor. Her sign, with teethmarks in the corners, said “My dog ate my sign. Give a smooch to save a pooch.”
“This is my 20th show,” said Debbie Cloos, of New York. “I finally got on stage!”
Others were just thrilled to be in the audience. Abby Hollick, of Montoursville, was seeing Urban for the fourth time. “I just love coming to his concerts,” she said.
Hollick didn’t care about the absence of Sugarland, the opening act that bowed out earlier in the week due to health issues with singer Jennifer Nettles. Others weren’t as understanding, and “We want Sugarland!” was heard more than once while local band The Rustlanders were preparing to play instead. But the group’s short set was politely accepted by the crowd, and lauded by the headliner.
“Gotta thank them for coming and helping us out,” he told the crowd later. “That was way cool.”
“Cool” was a good word for Urban, too. He alternately played to his audience blatantly, jackrabbiting across the stage or sinuously working his guitar. Other times, he would turn with a sudden half-smile at an unsuspecting part of the crowd, as though he just realized anyone was watching at all.
“It’s great to be back,” he told the audience, the rock star sentiment given by all the legends.