Harkening back to his days of singing for his supper in Nashville, Keith Urban played three short, sweaty sets at a trio of Music City honky tonks in less than an hour last night. A cunning stunt to promote his latest LP, Fuse (out Tuesday), it was pandemonium by design as thousands of fans inevitably lined Downtown Nashville’s Lower Broadway bar strip in hopes of catching the country superstar’s frenzied pub crawl, where he debuted a handful of songs off the album.
The few hundred fans lucky enough to make it inside Legends Corner, the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and the Stage – most arriving hours earlier, staking out spots to see the singer and his backing band cram onto stages smaller than a stadium show’s drum riser – were rewarded with raw, rocked-out performances of Fuse cuts like “Even the Stars Fall 4 U” and the anthemic four-on-the-floor fist-pumper “Good Thing,” along with Urban’s most recent hit, “Little Bit of Everything.”
Those who got into the Tootsie’s show received the biggest payoff of the night. Perhaps best capturing the true spirit of Lower Broadway – where, in the background, hopeful and hungry stars-in-the-making singing “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “Friends in Low Places” could be heard bleeding out from the other bars on the strip – Urban broke into a ramshackle, roadhouse vamp on the riff to ZZ Top’s “La Grange.”
“If we play this long enough, I’m certain a certain blues singer will come up here,” Urban playfully said from the stage. It was then that the singer’s fellow American Idol judge Steven Tyler suddenly emerged and started singing “Walk This Way,” morphing the Aerosmith staple into a swampy blues stomp, while the crowd inside the club reacted with deafening fervor and the hoards on the now-impassable sidewalk outside the club swarmed to try and catch a glimpse of the jam through a window behind the stage.
Under secret-service-worthy security, along with a heavy police presence, Urban and his entourage traveled swiftly down a barricaded path, shaking hands, hugging and posing for pictures with fans as he hustled from honky tonk to honky tonk, jumping right on stage, plugging in and rocking out without stopping for a breath between sets. At the end of the night, leaving awe-struck fans reeling, the singer was out of the Stage’s door and whisked away in a modest motorcade (if such a thing exists) before unwitting tourists caught up in the melee had even realized what just transpired.
Earlier in the evening, the singer played a drastically less chaotic 45-minute set for ticket winners and industry folk at Nashville’s cozy, riverside Cumberland Park. In addition to performances of tunes he would again turn in later that night, Urban also busted out back-catalog war horses like “Long Hot Summer,” “Sweet Thing” and “Somebody Like You,” which also got an airing at the Tootsie’s gig.
For the first big surprise of the night, reprising his guest spot on Fuse’s “Raise ‘Em Up,” perennially baseball-capped and aviators-clad country contemporary Eric Church joined Urban to duet on the song’s live debut, with the pair sharing the mic and doing their best Springsteen/Little Steven back-and-forth in the process.
The Cumberland Park show was taped for a webcast as part of Yahoo! Music’s Ram Country Live! series, and will air on September 25th.