Garth Brooks captivates Capital Centre audience

October 23, 1992|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

LARGO — Garth Brooks is not the likeliest-looking pop idol.

At a time when most male country stars are lean, tan and hunky, Brooks is pale, round-faced and pudgy, looking more like the Pillsbury Doughboy than a cowboy pin-up.

But you wouldn't know it by the way his audience reacts.

Last night at the Capital Centre, Brooks was on the receiving end of audience adulation all night.

It wasn't just the usual screams and cheers, either; he spent as much time shaking hands, accepting presents and returning waves as he did singing and playing.

Yet through it all, Brooks maintained such a genuine sense of awe-shucks modesty that you wanted to grab him by the arm and whisper, "Wake up, pal -- you're a super star!"

Of course, his jes'-folks demeanor is a big part of Brooks' charm, and almost as essential to his act as the hillbilly yodel that burbles through most of his singing.

But personality was only one part of the equation; the rest had to do with the way he successfully translated rock-and-roll showmanship to country music material.

Never mind that his stage was as uncluttered and well-lit as any rock acts -- that's not such a big deal in country these days.

What sets Brooks apart are things like the way he leapt into the crowd,Springsteen-style, during "If Tomorrow Never Comes," or the way he used flashing lights and rumbling sound effects to set the mood for "The Thunder Rolls."

That also carried through to the music.

You could hear it in the Billy Joel-like flourishes he gave to "Somewhere Other Than the Night," or in the throat-straining intensity he lent "Shameless."

You could also hear it in the rock-edged guitar playing that spiked "Papa Loved Mama."

In fact, that strain was so prevalent in his playing that straight-up country tunes like "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House" seemed almost oddities.

Where Brooks seemed most at home musically, however, was when the material let him indulge in unabashed sentimentality.

That is an undercurrent that can be heard in most all of his slow songs, but it came to the fore most tellingly in his unaccompanied rendition of "Unanswered Prayers," which offered perhaps the evening's most moving performance.

And that more than the good-ol'-boy fervor of "Friends in Low Places" was ultimately what carried the evening.

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