Keith Urban, his guitar, an amp and a bunch of songs. Famous or not, it’s still the essentials to music. Beautiful light show and full band in a massive arena and it’s sound check/ press performance before the night’s concert in Melbourne to begin his ‘Escape Together’ world tour.
We’re listening to the sound of arguably our most successful musical export (he’s born in New Zealand and raised in Brisbane, so we claim him!) in between question time. Off stage I point out to the star that the empty Rod Laver Arena stadium will soon be filled for a sold-out show.
“I can’t believe it’s tonight. Looking forward to playing it” he says. As he tests out its sound, the vibrations travel directly to where I’m sitting, taking it all in. The cameras flash as he stands before us, capturing what they can of the star. He seems at ease with it all (the occasional light is a little too close and bright). But when he steps up on the big stage and then breaks it down on the little one behind the sound desk, he’s completely at home. Pictures are before he’s all hot and sweaty as the journalists fire some questions. The obvious one about the women in his life, wife Nicole Kidman and daughter Sunday Rose, is quick to surface. ‘They're both good. I wish they could be here.”
“We did a bunch of shows up in Canada where we had multiple nights in different cities. It was the perfect place for the girls to come up. We’d get three or four nights in hotel and a day off. It was really lovely to put family and work in a mesh like that. It made it a more enjoyable experience for me.” Although, the young bundle of joy is yet to see her dad rock the big stage. “Sunday hasn’t seen any shows because she’s asleep by 7 o’clock every night,” he says with a smile. A possible actress or singer in the making? "She's got some pipes on her, I know that."
Soon they will join hubby and dad here in Aus for a family break. Speaking after the performance when majority of the press had left, “We’re going to have Christmas here and possibly New Years. It’s really just catching up with family, showing Sunny off to everybody,” he says again smiling.
“It’s been a long time.” Unfortunately the paparazzi’s fascination with his family impacts their travels to Australia. ''It has an affect on how we come here for sure. In Nashville we just jump in a car and drive to wherever we want to go – restaurants, movies. Obviously we don't have that situation in Sydney.'' Although, Urban doesn’t seem one to complain about much. He recalls with fond memory of his early days gigging in Australia.
"I loved playing all the pubs. I played in so many different environments, from solo, to duo, to band. All those things gave me a musical map to get me to a point where I could do my own thing.”
Whether it’s a pub of an arena, it’s still him, his guitar and the songs. The theme of the tour “Escape Together” is depicted by the open stage – no barriers between artist and fan. It’s the way he wants it to be. “Because I come from that environment, I love people being able to put their arms on the stage and being right there. So many concerts…even if you’ve got front row seats, you’re still a million miles away.”
“If you’ve got any requests, yell out,” he passes comment with a grin heading to the stage. On stage his whole body plays and feels the guitar, moving in rhythm with its chords as the refreshing and uplifting tunes of “Kiss a Girl” and “Sweet Thing” fill the arena. His inspiration, currently out promoting a movie (as she does), unfortunately couldn’t be present for these shows. But when she can and does, it has all the right affects.
“I love it when she comes out. I think I play better when she’s here.” “When someone you love and that you love is present with what you’re doing, no matter what this is, I think it elevates you a little. That’s certainly the case for me.”
His newest release, Defying Gravity, was made possible by his willingness to let love in. “It’s this want to be brave enough to fully give myself to somebody, which I’ve never been able to do,” he explains. “I think the courage to love is, for me, what's it's about. That's really been the underlying theme in all of the songs, even if they're presented in a seemingly simplistic pop way.”
There’s a likability factor that comes through when he speaks and sings. A true Aussie, it seems, after all. We shake hands and he thanks us for coming down. Then it’s on with the show… Written by Danielle Ralph