Few performers can earn a standing ovation simply by ambling onstage but Garth Brooks does just that in his new Encore show. As though luring Brooks from retirement were not achievement enough, Steve Wynn has allowed him to present the most un-Vegas shows on the Strip. Of glitz there is not a trace -- but your money will rarely be so well spent.
The "set" is nothing more than a stool, a microphone and an occasional lighting effect. Yet even a hint of "production" would detract from the genuineness of what's happening in the Encore Theatre. It's not a show just for fans of Country & Western music, folk-rock or pop. It's for fans of music, period.
Attired in a hoodie, baseball cap and jeans, Brooks shambles to center stage and warms up with a tune or two, although it's obvious that his expressive, slightly plaintive voice is in splendid estate. He might play something by Merle Haggard or Cat Stevens, or perhaps one of the Georges (Jones or Strait), James Taylor, Bob Dylan or Billy Joel - including a killer "Piano Man." For all one knows, Brooks is working off a carefully crafted set list but the prevailing impression is that he's rambling from tune to tune as the mood takes him.
Once he feels good and "sung in," Brooks does Q&A with the audience and even takes requests. While much of the purpose of his show - to the extent it has one - is to honor the artists who have influenced his artistry, Brooks doesn't go light on his own catalogue. As the audience claps and sings along, he regales them with "Unanswered Prayers" or maybe "The Thunder Rolls." It's less of a concert than a Garth Brooks love-in.
Two-thirds of the way into the show, he brings on wife Trisha Yearwood, who draws no small ovation herself. "All of a sudden, I'm Mr. Yearwood," Brooks quips. The two have an easy Min-and-Bill rapport. She flaunts her wedding band, before claiming, "It's fake." Replies her husband, "That rock is the reason we had to take this gig."
Brooks and Yearwood performed two numbers ("She's in Love with the Boy" and "Walkaway Joe") on this occasion, as she gave an object lesson in how to use a powerful voice with restraint. Following her exit, Brooks slyly allowed that he had an impossible act to follow … unless he played his trump card, "Friends in Low Places." All it took was a chord or two for him to have the crowd back in the palm of his hand (he'd been tantalizing them with fragments of the number earlier). At the refrain, they sang it themselves, with just an occasional chord prompt from the man with the guitar.
Closing with "The Dance," Brooks left an exceptionally satisfied crowd in his wake. One can only say, "Whatever you're doing, don't' change it." Unlike so many Vegas shows that are rehearsed to the nth degree, sometimes achieving a stultifying lack of spontaneity, Brooks is all about being in the moment and at one with the crowd. His show is concerned with celebrating music for its own sake. If the performance is as much a product of Garth Brooks' whim and audience input as it seems, fortunate attendees can say they beheld a unique, "only in Vegas" experience. As artistic events of 2009-10 go, this has to rank near the top of the list.
Garth Brooks Las Vegas
8:00 PM Fri - Sun, and another at 10:30 PM Sat, on select dates
Wynn Las Vegas
3131 Las Vegas Blvd. S.