The scenario was awkward before the first note was played.
A long-debated scheduling conflict put the Super Bowl-champion Ravens nearly 1,700 miles away from Baltimore on Thursday night — in Denver — for the team's first game of the regular season.
Although the Ravens earned the right to open their season at home, all Baltimore got was a Keith Urban concert.
Not that the more than 40,000 in attendance minded. A sea of purple and black flooded the area next to the Maryland Science Center at the Inner Harbor, waiting for the country star and "American Idol" judge to hit the stage floating on the water. When Urban arrived a little after 7:20 p.m., the palpable enthusiasm for football shifted to upbeat country-pop, at least for the moment.
Sandwiched between two double-sided screens acting as colorful bookends, Urban and his five-piece band kicked off the concert with "Long Hot Summer," which felt strangely wistful given fall's impending arrival.
Throughout the nine-song set, Urban and his band played tightly, and without an unnecessary amount of flair. They looked and played like professionals sticking to a finely rehearsed script. As would be the case most of the night, the crowd mostly bopped in place politely, but never gave itself completely over to the artist. Only the relatively small section of fans closest to the stage — and thus, the ones on television the most — reacted as if it was an actual concert.
It's hard to blame them. While the slick production went off without a hitch, the NFL Kickoff event felt less like a concert and more like an extravagant announcement that football had finally returned. The stage and light show were impressive, but the large corporate sponsor logos surrounding the stage were a reminder that this was a show for TV even more so than a show for Baltimore.
For his part, Urban is a charming frontman who still loves putting on a show for a crowd. Only two of the songs performed were broadcast nationally, but he did his best to keep the crowd engaged and not thinking about how they were going to make it in front of a TV in time for kickoff. Urban was the perfect choice for the NFL: movie-star looks, reliably catchy and inoffensive songs, and a true star of country. The timing was right, too, as Urban's first new album in nearly three years, "Fuse," hits stores Tuesday. From a music standpoint, his performance was a reminder of country's wide appeal to fans of all ages.
Urban showed off a bit, too, playing solos on banjo and multiple guitars. During his 2002 hit "Somebody Like You," he changed the line "But you're teaching me to be a better man" to "But you Ravens fans are Super Bowl champs." It didn't make sense in the context of the song, but the crowd cheered the effort.
Tellingly, the most emphatic reaction from the crowd came while Urban and his band stopped playing and waited for NBC to introduce them for a final time. As if on cue, a small section of the crowd began a "Seven Nation Army" chant. The crowd's "Ohh-ohh-ohh-ohh-ohh-ohs" got louder, and eventually persuaded the band to play along. Instead of singing Jack White's famous "I'm gonna fight 'em off" opening line, Urban sang, "I'm going to Baltimore!" The crowd roared with approval, but it was a reminder of why they were all there: to celebrate their Super Bowl-winning team.
The only problem? The team was far, far away.