Garth Brooks Muscled Up in Las Vegas — Plus One Residency Review
Once upon a time, Garth Brooks did a one-man show in Las Vegas and then he followed it with a full band stadium tour. Opening night of his Plus One residency in Las Vegas was a terrific marriage of the two concepts.
Nobody really knew what to expect when Brooks took the stage at the Caesars Palace Colosseum on Thursday night (May 18). To hear him tell it, he didn't, either.
A single acoustic guitar sat alone on the stage before the curtains raised after 8PM, tempting fans to believe they were about to witness something similar to his show from a decade ago at the Wynn. For a couple songs, it resembled the past, but it might not next time.
The hitmaker began without a guitar and just welcomed his fans before retrieving his instrument to start "soundcheck." The Colosseum, Brooks says, sounds different with more than 4,000 fans in it than it does empty, so this was important. Who knows if he was being truthful or just being a showman?
After that, it was 140 minutes of country and rock, tears and laughter, classic country and brand new sorrow in the form of an unreleased ballad called "Pleasure in the Pain." Brooks cracked to GMA that he hoped his first night would be his worst night on this residency, but the bar has been set very high. We counted more than 30 song titles and left feeling quite sure the next group of fans will only get half of those as repeats.
Garth Garth'd. His rare gift is an ability to live in a moment more completely than any other performer. It's why skeptics accuse him of being disingenuous, until they see the tears that fall after he sings "The Dance" and realize, "Man, this cat's different."
The big reveal is that the Plus One residency is really Plus 12, or Plus 13, or (if you want to) Plus 4,000. He let the fans know that the difference between this show and the one-man show he did previously is "the muscle" and launched into "Rodeo." Fans heard drums, bass and electric guitar but couldn't spot a drummer or guitarist.
The red curtain behind him lifted to find his band at the ready, plus some. Two Hall of Fame retirees joined him for the show, helping build a tremendous ensemble of 13 that, at times, featured two drummers and more fiddle and steel than you'll find on any other country tour, opening acts included.
The hits kept rolling, complete with new stories. For instance, did you know the chorus of "Two Piña Coladas" originally went "So bring me two piña coladas / I want one for each hand / A big bag of ganja / You roll it up because I can't"?
That's true, maybe.
"Everything you're gonna hear tonight is a true story," Brooks deadpanned.
Seger and George Strait were the night's two most prominently featured artists (see the set list below), to the point that at one point — while talking about Strait — fiddle player Jimmy Mattingly shuffled to the stage in a white cowboy hat, fooling some into thinking the King was actually in the house. Brooks does hope for special guests down the line, but Night 1 featured just Trisha Yearwood.
She was far from a disappointment. The couple have shared the stage a thousand times, but Yearwood was particularly locked in for her three songs with her husband. "Shallow" was a revelation — radio missed on this song when it was released in 2021.
Those who saw Brooks perform at the Ryman Auditorium in November 2021 will recognize some of the stories and the concept of this show. He weaves into his songs by sharing stories of the songs that inspired him (Seger's "Night Moves" became "That Summer," for instance), but on this night he left out two-thirds of the stories he told in Nashville 19 months ago.
This is to say, there is plenty of room for improvisation. You're going to get the big hits, and "Friends in Low Places" may always tie a bow on it, but it was clear Brooks was flying free in Vegas.
His band was much more relaxed with a different mix than they were at any point on the stadium tour. The dozen singers and players would hang back at high-top tables, sipping beers and chatting until they recognized a moment where the boss needed 'em. The stage was sparse, but still warm because of this technique.
Brooks himself seemed to vacillate, setting his capo on his guitar neck as he spoke before resetting it and finally removing it before choosing a song. Nerves? Maybe.
Absentmindedness? That's doubtful.
A response to the subtle gestures and body language of his audience? That sounds pretty Garth-like.
Plus One is a two-way conversation with his fans. Don't be intimated by the muscle.
Garth Brooks' Plus One Residency Set List (May 18, 2023)
1. Against the Wind (Bob Seger Cover)
2. Don’t Close Your Eyes (Keith Whitley Cover)
3. She’s Every Woman
5. Two of a Kind (Workin’ on a Full House)
6. Two Piña Coladas
7. Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old
8. The River
9. Night Moves (Bob Seger Cover)
10. That Summer
11. Turn the Page (Bob Seger Cover)
12. Thunder Rolls
14. I Told You So (Randy Travis Cover)
15. Pleasure in the Pain (New Song)
16. Change the World (Eric Clapton Cover) by Gordon Kennedy
17. Callin’ Baton Rouge
18. Shallow, with Trisha Yearwood
19. Golden Ring (Tammy Wynette / George Jones Cover), with Trisha Yearwood
20. Whiskey to Wine, with Trisha Yearwood
21. She’s in Love With the Boy by Trisha Yearwood
22. Papa Loves Mama
24. Troubadour (George Strait Cover)
25. Fireman (George Strait Cover)
26. You Look So Good in Love (George Strait Cover)
27. Amarillo by Morning (George Strait Cover)
28. Fishin’ in the Dark (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Cover)
29. The Dance
30. Piano Man (Billy Joel Cover)
31. You Never Even Called Be My Name (David Allan Coe Cover)
32. Friends in Low Places