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Nothing country as Urban rocks fans with raw talent in stellar show

Two things.

First, Keith Urban put on a superlative show on Saturday evening, in front of a mostly full HSBC Arena.

Second, y'all have gotta stop calling this country music.

Urban was fantastic, and so was his band. But this show was about as country as I am, and I'm from Massachusetts, for cryin' out loud.

If you insist on calling this country music, well, go for it. But my ears and eyes took in a well above-average rock 'n' roll concert by a singer/songwriter who also happens to be one helluva guitar player. Sure, there were tenuous connections to what most of us interpret as "country."

But then, there are those connections at a Bob Seger, John Fogerty and John Mellencamp concert, as well. I guess only the Eagles qualify as a rock band, also considered a country band by the powers that be and the masses as well.

OK. Whatever.

Urban is a songwriter of significance, believe it or not. He's been marketed -- presumably with his own stamp of approval -- as a good-lookin' hunk of country-playin' man-meat. Urban probably is that for a good portion of his audience, and that's fine. He's more, though. Whether he wants to be or not.

In fact, what Urban's HSBC show proved was that he's one of the few mainstream rock performers worth caring about. Sorry if I've shattered some sort of group identification thing you've had going for yourself, but Urban is a rocker, through and through. As in, he's a guy who has clearly spent more time listening to Jimmy Page than he has, say, Toby Keith. (Hello, all you Keith fans who've Googled this. Yes, Keith is still lame.)

So the "mix tape mash-up" prefacing the show was quite cool. Forcing together hip-hop tunes with true-blue rockers. Hard to notice the lack of country in there, though.

Urban took the stage like the rock guy he is, with lights dimmed and a Gibson Les Paul strapped to his hips. "Once In A Lifetime" started mellow, but emerged eventually as a full-bore rocker, replete with smoking blues-based guitar solo from Urban.

The man seemed intent on proving his musicianship -- or perhaps this is just what he does -- when "Faster Car" came around, and he threw a Fender Precision bass over his shoulder and played it like it was his first instrument. Seriously, Urban drove the band with his bass playing, and his stellar accompanists wrapped themselves around him with aplomb of the grooving sort.

For "Raining on a Sunday," Urban strode down a catwalk, emerging from center stage to the middle of the arena, and yeah, women screamed in appreciation, with Urban's pants on the tighter edge of fashionable. But what counted here was the soulful vocal and folk-based guitar accompaniment, which was aided by Urban's mid-tune percussive slap on the acoustic guitar's body, acting as a sort of beat-box. Quite cool, that.

"Stupid Boy" killed, starting as a ballad, and then erupting into a rock piece with fantastic guitar lines in harmony, recalling -- and no, I'm not kidding -- Thin Lizzy and the Eagles in equal effect.

Urban is an outstanding performer, a great songwriter, and a first-rate musician. His gig inside HSBC Arena proved it. Just don't call him country.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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Keith Urban

Saturday night in HSBC Arena.

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