The defining moments in Keith Urban's concert Friday night at American Airlines Center came near the end of the show, when he paired the 2013 single "Little Bit of Everything" with the new "John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16."
In "John Cougar," the New Zealand-born Urban dreamed about being an all-encompassing all-American: "I'm Mark Twain on the Mississippi/I'm Hemingway with a shot of whiskey," he sang, going on to compare himself to Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne and John Cougar Mellencamp.
In the earlier tune, he sang about wanting all things at all times: "I wish I could take a cab down to the creek/And hang a disco ball from an old oak tree."
On one level, his all-embracing philosophy worked fine. The show was a 10-foot-tall layer-cake with dance tunes piled atop country-lite ballads supported by a thick slab of feel-good pop-rock songs.
Yet eventually, the music blurred together into a big gray blanket of generic country pop-rock. Urban didn't sound like John Cougar as much as he sounded like Garth Brooks trying to sound like Bryan Adams trying to sound like John Cougar.
Every now and then, a tune actually stood out, like "Blue Ain't Your Color," a gorgeous new R&B strut you could easily imagine Etta James singing, or "You Look Good In My Shirt," a twangy rocker that was the only song in the show that actually felt close to real country.
And while Urban often outsources his songwriting to Nashville pros, he does stand out as the rare country-pop star who's a decent lead guitarist. While his meat-and-potatoes guitar style felt moldy at times, he did spice up several tunes with prickly flourishes of Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young.
Urban was joined onstage for several tunes by opener Brett Eldredge, and he also sang "We Were Us" with the show's other opener, Arlington's Marren Morris, ably filling the duet role occupied on record by Miranda Lambert. Earlier, a video version of Carrie Underwood showed up to duet with Urban on the peppy new dance-pop tune "The Fighter."
The cameos came off well, but Urban certainly didn't need extra star power. He was an affable, high-watt showman, constantly flashing his pearly-white choppers, name-checking local suburbs ("Anyone here from Plano?") and pulling a pair of flustered fans from Oklahoma on to the stage for a brief hug-and-chat session. Whipping out tons of flashy guitar-hero moves and footloose dance steps, Urban exuded the gleeful charm of a teenager putting on a show in front of his bedroom mirror.
Complain if you must about the Urbanization of country or the humdrum sound of his music. There's still something to be said for a tireless entertainer who knows how to light up an arena.
Thor Christensen is a Dallas writer and critic. He can be reached at Thorchris2@yahoo.com