John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

Garth Brooks gallops back to Las Vegas

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Garth Brooks onstage at T-Mobile Arena.
Photo: L.E. Baskow

Garth Brooks is recording his current tour for a concert film, documenting everything that happens during his shows at T-Mobile Arena and those to follow at Yankee Stadium. “We’re shooting the whole tour as it is right now,” Brooks said during a session with media at T-Mobile on June 24, a few hours before his concert that night. “I’m just being myself, which is full of flaws and being stupid and fun.”

Stupid and fun, blended with artistic brilliance and generous theatrics, is how Brooks attacks his performances at T-Mobile. This is the Man Against Machine tour, marking his first full arena tour since 2000 and promoting Brooks’ 2014 album of that title. The tour is also a way for Brooks to appear with his wife, Trisha Yearwood, onstage. Yearwood takes over for a set in the middle of the show and proves once more she’s a legit star, too.

But the tour is primarily a saunter through Brooks’ entire catalog. Backed and flanked by big screens showing highlights of his career, the lights blazing and his drummer caged in an LED-trimmed sphere that flashes through the show, Brooks unfurls his greatest hits: “Rodeo,” “The Beaches of Cheyenne,” “The River,” “Two Piña Coladas,” “Ain’t Goin’ Down (’Til the Sun Comes Up),” “That Summer,” “The Thunder Rolls,” “Friends in Low Places” and “The Dance.”

Most everyone in that rowdy crowd at T-Mobile, which for Friday night was not totally sold out but close, knew every word to every song. Brooks’ performance is as explosive and extensive as any world tour you can name, and drew a stark contrast to the unvarnished residency he hosted at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas from 2009 to 2014. Brooks, who strummed an acoustic and sported a hoodie, ball cap, jeans and work boots in those shows, says that was his favorite period as a live performer. He still carries deep affection for his long history in the city, dating to performances at the old Desert Inn (where Wynn and Encore now stand) in 1991, and four sold-out shows at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1998.

Brooks grins as he remembers those days, and remains fond of the folks he got to know at Wynn when he performed there. “While I’m in town, my days are going to be spent having lunch with people I met who work there, because you fall in love with them because they’re good people,” he says. “If you’re with good people, they’re going to treat the people who fill those seats good, too.”

The instinctive question, then, is what would it take for Garth Brooks to return to a Strip residency? “First of all, if you know Steve Wynn, Steve Wynn is going to want what you can’t get anywhere else,” Brooks said, nodding and smiling as he recalled the days of working at Encore. “So, probably, if that were to ever happen again, it would be after you were through touring and you’re off the road and the only place you can play is at the Wynn.

“But I’ll tell ya, if the only place you can play is the Wynn, then you’re a lucky guy.”

What about the possibility of performing in residency at, say, the Colosseum at Caesars or the Park Theater? Brooks played two non-ticketed, VIP shows at the Colosseum in 2008, before he signed with Wynn. The Park Theater is slated to open by year’s end, with officials seeking top artists to perform residencies in the 5,300-seat venue.

“Jim Collins wrote the book called Good to Great, one of my favorites, and the whole essence is that you need to get the right people on the bus,” he said. “That’s what makes it fun. If these other people are as nice as Steve Wynn, can make a handshake deal and stand behind it, then I’d be interested to meet with them.”

Regardless of his decisions about live performance at the conclusion of this tour, Brooks will remain a wily and adventurous artist. He remembered the notorious “pop-up” show he and his band played under the name Yukon Jack in January 1993 at a tavern in Clovis, New Mexico. The crew stopped at the bar on the way to singing the national anthem at the Rose Bowl. The cover was $3.

“We started playing, and there were nine people in the place,” Brooks said, laughing. “By the end it was packed—I mean, totally packed—and this was before any social media. We had one pay phone in the place and people were on it all night long, calling people to come in. We hung out until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning.”

Stupid and fun, right? It’s the Brooks way.

Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood. July 2, 7 p.m.; July 3, 7 & 10:30 p.m.; July 4, 5 p.m., $80. T-Mobile Arena, 702-692-1600.

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