The last time Garth Brooks came round these parts, way back in the pre-COVID (but not really) days of February 2020, he was playing the cozy quarters of Foxborough’s Six String Grill & Stage as a part of his radio-promotion Dive Bar Tour. When he returned Friday night courtesy of his Stadium Tour, he had moved up to Gillette, just a couple hundred yards away. It’s always nice to see someone take their career to the next level.
And yet, even taking over a coliseum-sized venue, Brooks managed to convey some degree of intimacy. An overflow date that was added once tickets for Saturday’s show were swooped up, Friday’s show (the first concert at Gillette since 2019 and the country singer’s Gillette debut) was deliberately undersold, with tickets only available for the field and stadium’s first tier. Setting up the stage somewhere around the 30-yard line shrunk the space further.
Whether because of the reduced-size setup or the release of playing again after a long shutdown, Brooks was boisterous and charged up, burning nonstop with the thrill of performance. He wasn’t a singer who got lost in his material, something evident in him throwing his arms into the air and screaming “Yeah!” as soon as he finished a tender “To Make You Feel My Love” accompanied only with his own guitar and in “Papa Loved Mama,” about a man who kills his unfaithful wife, being delivered as an affectionate good-time romp. That wild enthusiasm was of a piece with the intensity he brought to “The Thunder Rolls,” which took on a similar theme as “Papa” but from a very different angle.
His band was tight and versatile, navigating shifts from the hard Texas-swing shuffle of “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House” to the Springsteenian pounding and pedal-steel swerves of “That Summer” to the sentimental weeper “The Dance,” the country equivalent of a power ballad. And Brooks’s own guitar playing had an offhand facility reminiscent of Greenwich Village folk and ‘70s Laurel Canyon stalwarts like James Taylor, something he showed time and again as he played “She’s Every Woman,” “Message In A Bottle,” and others requested by fans’ signs.
It was practically gilding the lily when Brooks’s wife Trisha Yearwood appeared out of nowhere to sing the Lady Gaga part of “Shallow” to his Bradley Cooper (albeit hopefully with a better ending). They pushed it further anyway, with him accompanying her as she sang the soft and sad “Walkaway Joe” to a tearful fan in the front row. She returned the favor, joining his backing vocalists for a finale of the strummy, Ed Sheeran-anticipating “Standing Outside the Fire.” Friday’s show might have been smaller than Saturday’s will be, but it was hard to imagine that Brooks held anything back.
Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Mitch Rossell opened with a short, solid four-song set that covered a hopped-up rocker about poor judgment, a knocked-out breeze about the wonder of girls, and a celebration of both hard work (boo) and beer (yay).
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc
With Mitch Rossell. At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Friday