And so the show begins (albeit 30 minutes after the official start time of 7.30) with, it must be said, a mighty wallop. It’s emotional and no mistake. Garth Brooks cries, Croke Park cries, and the mutual love between performer and people is palpable.
Eight years after the botched five-day sequence of sold out shows at the Dublin venue (“a debacle” noted Brooks in a press conference on Thursday, as he pointed a finger towards “the powers that be”), traumatic memories have been erased.
And now? On a cloudy but warm Friday evening, the Oklahoma singer and songwriter has the capacity crowd in his hands, and he is squeezing gently but with firm purpose. The implication is that Brooks is not only fully in control but that the audience is intentionally allowing him to do with them what he will. It’s all about the love, and this is clear from the very start.
Brooks strolls on stage — specially constructed and shipped in from the US for his five Dublin performances — as if he owns the joint. A huge ‘G’ (in what looks like Gaelic script) sits centre in the stage backdrop — the same letter is also on his guitar, on a shamrock-designed drum kit and around the stage podium.
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His first words? Well, after he stops crying at the impressive show of audience adulation. he falls on his knees, gets up and says “Ireland, I just came here to raise some hell and have some fun.” Amid the kind of screams you rarely hear outside the rush of rollercoasters, Brooks also shouts “I love you Ireland”, “You came back!!!”, “You do not disappoint!!”, “You are why I travelled here”, wraps the tricolour around his shoulders, and thumps his heart. It would all be hokey if it wasn’t for the fact that his sincerity is as obvious as the glistening sweat on his chest.
His demeanour is something else, too: a mix of humility, emotion, earnestness, and the authentic air of a performer who knows his audience and how to deliver exactly what they expect. All of the songs they know and love, he says, will be played.
And yet it takes about 30 minutes for the show to find its feet. Lift off arrives with Papa Loved Mama, The Thunder Rolls, Unanswered Prayers and If Tomorrow Never Comes, all of which are received riotously. There is more to come.
The roof, metaphorically speaking, shatters with his rendering of Shallow. Lady Gaga’s Star is Born song is performed by Brooks and his wife Trisha Yearwood and, pretty much, the stadium melts as one. Friends in Low Places and The Dance end the main section of the show, and then it’s all thanks and tears again. Oh — and a solo Brooks mini-set that includes faithful covers of Billy Joel’s The Piano Man, Bob Dylan’s To Make You Feel My Love, and Don MacLean’s American Pie.
Cynics look elsewhere. The end-result is a slam dunk, game/set/match performance. But it’s more than these, of course: it’s the world’s most successful country music star on, de facto, home turf playing to a home crowd.
As a coda, it’s worth noting that on April 30th last, Brooks performed in Tiger Stadium on the campus of Louisiana State University. During the show, he stirred the audience to such a level that the noise recorded on the university’s seismograph registered as an earthquake. Dublin had best prepare itself for more of the same over the next seven days or so.
Garth Brooks plays sold out shows at Croke Park on Saturday September 10th; Sunday, September 11th; Friday September 16th; Saturday, September 17th.