Garth Brooks–Live at Mercedes Benz

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Full Disclosure:  This was a free ticket for me, and I’m not a Country/Garth Brooks fan.  Going into this show, I’d seen him on TV and knew he was a good showman.  He’s also the #1 selling solo artist in U.S. history, with 149M albums sold.  My wife has his Greatest Hits CD, but it never gets played. 

The ticket did cost a friend $150, though.  Here’s the view – lower bowl, sort of corner end zone.  For a stadium show, this is a pretty good seat.  It’s Thursday, a weeknight, and traffic in downtown Atlanta is its usual hell.  Ergo, the stadium fills slowly.  The opener was Mitch Rossell, an enthusiastic performer fairly overwhelmed with the opportunity and the space.  Regrettably, though visibly enjoying his performance, the sound was much like listening in over a Public Address speaker.  We quickly became worried about the sound prospects.  The second opening act, Karyn Rochelle, was similarly muddled, though she was at least more visible by playing to our side of the up-to-now curtained in-the-round stage.  Still, ‘twas awful audio.

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Speaking of a PA, an announcement is heard that Garth will be recording the show, and the audio folks need our help in setting levels.  The crowd cheers as instructed.  Translation, they turned the volume up when Garth took the stage.  That entrance was electric.

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It’s a huge stage.  The center core is surrounded by floor seats, with runways that reach towards the end zones.  Garth is an energetic guy; he’s going to play to the crowd.  Helpfully, from this distance, the Mercedes Benz circular graphics board helps zoom in on the action, else most folks would be left with “just” the audio.  Oops, rather, just the “audio.”

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Curiously, the “halo” video ring at the top of the stadium was pretty well synced with Garth, while the video in his own stage was a tad behind.  In any case, it didn’t freaking matter.  The music reverberated in Atlanta’s now hallowed structure, taking any musical enjoyment out of the experience.  All it left was Garth, warming to crowd, soaking in its adulations, and energetic presentation.  That would have to be good enough.

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I went for a beverage and found other people similarly complaining.  One in the upper deck actually said she came down to a lower level – the speakers around the perimeter were not functional.

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Hey, what’s there to do in a terrible sounding concert?  Surf.  Thanks Twitter.  It isn’t just me, and it wasn’t just those in the upper deck, per a perfunctory post-concert announcement by Mercedes-Benz operators that “we have heard some fan concerns about sound quality in certain sections of the upper concourse…” 

Well, let’s look at that upper concourse.  If you’ll click the picture below to expand it, you’ll see many empty seats (red) for this sold out show.  Ample tickets were available up to the start of the show in the $30-$40 range, which suggests that many, many seats were originally bought by resellers (no evidence for this, but seat licenses for stadiums are gold mines for resellers), without anyone to grab them. 

"Two Pina Coladas" graphics scrolling by.

I’m not going to place the blame fully on the stadium.  Garth shares in the lousy sound audio.  Though intended for sports audiences, the facility was built with an expectation of hosting concerts as well.  Whatever acoustic properties you consider in a concrete and steel structure, they either were not good enough or were not related adequately to Garth’s audio team.

On Garth’s part, his stage is obviously built for basketball arenas.  In the cavernous Benz, it looks small, and the speakers that surround it are pointed towards the floor and level audience.  By other reports, the sound quality on the floor was sterling.  Some people got their money’s worth, at least.  But I’ll refrain from a show there until I hear of a few that people actually compliment.  None of those people were on the MARTA train home – everyone seemed thrilled to have seen him and deeply disappointed that it wasn’t a concert to remember.  Fondly, or as fondly as the should.

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On the plus side, the stadiums graphics were sizzling, the seats are generously sized and comfortable, and I’d hop, skip and jump back there for a sports event.  Speaking of Garth, he may have done just the same getting to the ends of the stadium.

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I can see why people like Garth.  He writes good songs, everyone, it seems, can relate to them, and most of those gathered knew the words and could sing along.  He’s not like most performers who settle for a “Hello, Atlanta!” and “Here’s one you might remember.”  Instead, almost every song was introduced in some context, and his appreciation for his audience seemed both gigantic and heartfelt.  There’s a lot to like about a celebrity who interacts that way.

His wife, Trisha Yearwood, took the stage for a couple duets and solo songs, surprisingly giving wa to an honorary Georgian award presented by Jimmy Carter.  Not every concert features a Presidential address, but it was a good one, as well as seeing him spryly descend a ladder without assistance.

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Other notes:  I enjoyed the solo-acoustic songs, “The River” song/cellphone lightshow, his “I got a guitar to hide my gut… but I did learn four chords” – intro to “Friends in Low Places,” a rocking “The Thunder Rolls,” and the familiar but appropriate “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”

Oh, and Der Biergarden pre-show!  Good friends, audible conversation.

Setlist:

  • Devil Went Down to Georgia
  • Rodeo
  • Two of a Kind, Workin’ of a Full House
  • The River
  • Two Pina Coladas
  • Papa Loved Mama
  • Ain’t Goin’ Down
  • Unanswered Prayers
  • That Summer
  • Ask Me How I Know
  • The Thunder Rolls
  • In Another’s Eyes (with Trisha Yearwood)

Trisha Yearwood:

  • XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)
  • How Do I Live
  • Prize Fighter
  • Georgia On My Mind
  • She’s in Love With the Boy

Garth Brooks:

  • Callin’ Baton Rouge
  • Friends in Low Places
  • The Dance

Encore:

  • She’s Every Woman
  • The Change
  • The Red Strokes
  • Piano Man
  • Standing Outside the Fire

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