While her superstar husband Garth Brooks was busy helping Billy Joel bid farewell to Shea Stadium on the other side of the country Friday night, Trisha Yearwood was playing to a slightly smaller house at the Orleans Showroom.
1. No one yells "Where's Trisha?" at a Garth Brooks show. Yearwood responded gracefully to the cry of "Where's Garth?" with an only semi-sarcastic "Nobody ever asks," before explaining that Brooks had actually been with her in Vegas for the last two days before being called on his Billy Joel-aiding errand. She then joked that since Brooks wasn't paid for the Joel performance, he was still technically retired.
2. She doesn't swing across the stage on a giant harness. As Yearwood noted, there are no fancy theatrics in her show, unlike the arena spectacles her husband favored in his heyday. She walked casually onstage in a colorful top and jeans, strolled back and forth while singing and interacted warmly with her five-piece band. There were no pyrotechnics or lasers; just solid, old-fashioned musicianship.
3. She can take requests from the audience. Good luck having your voice heard at a show at some Enormo-Dome; at the Orleans, Yearwood was able to catch a fan's request for the lovely "On a Bus to St. Cloud," confer with her band and decide to add it to the set.
4. He sells out nine arena shows in 10 days; she can't quite fill a Vegas showroom. The few empty seats were more than compensated for by the enthusiastic audience, though, and the showroom, typically home to more, er, mature acts, proved a wonderfully intimate venue for Yearwood's deep catalog of country hits, along with a generous helping of songs from her top-notch recent album, Heaven, Heartache and the Power of Love. Barnburners like that album's title song sat well alongside plaintive ballads like "Georgia Rain." Yearwood's band even added some punch to the insipid hit ballad "How Do I Live," an unfortunate set-list obligation.
5. My mom loves them both, but can only get new music and a live experience from Yearwood. Brooks' self-imposed retirement turns every one-off show or single he produces into an overhyped event; in the meantime, his wife continues to make excellent country music without the benefit of hype, and is more than generous about reaching out to her fans. That to me makes her the winner here, no contest.