If the raucous cheering, clapping and screaming that accompanied his 2-hour-long sold-out performance at the 18,500-capacity Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, outside Chicago was any indication, it was a mission accomplished.
And as much as the fans showed their love for the 52-year-old country superstar, it was clear that the feeling was mutual.
"You came back! You came back!" Brooks shouted. "I have missed you."
Concert-goers said his voice sounded just as good as ever, and Brooks – wearing a black cowboy hat, gray plaid shirt, jeans and black cowboy boots – was energetic throughout the evening, laughing, smiling and screaming.
Looking happy to be on stage, he ran from end to end and around the circular setup, jumped onto risers and climbed up next to a giant orb of lighted interlocking rings that surrounded the drums.
A Breathless BrooksStill, he might have been just a tad out of practice – he joked about his age, saying, "I am 107 years old" – as he was out of breath at times, and his face and shirt were drenched in sweat before the halfway point.
Brooks started the show to a burst of smoke and flashing lights, then popped onto the stage and momentarily held a pose with his head down before he launched into his first song, the new tune "Man Against the Machine."
With large video screens forming a cube shape above them, seven musicians and three backup singers joined him on stage. Brooks also sang his new single, "People Loving People," which he released Wednesday.
But the majority of songs came from his roster of old favorites, including "Papa Loved Mama," "The River" (during which he got teary-eyed as the audience joined him), "Unanswered Prayers," "Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up)," "The Thunder Rolls," "Friends in Low Places" and "The Dance."
Trisha Joins InWife Trisha Yearwood, 49, joined him about an hour into his set to sing a handful of songs. "I'm so nervous," said Yearwood, who was clad in jeans, a long-sleeved embellished shirt, cowboy boots and sparkly earrings with her blond hair in long, loose waves.
Among her songs were "XXX’s and OOO’s (An American Girl)," "How Do I Live," "She’s in Love with the Boy," and "PrizeFighter," the title song from her upcoming new album, her first in seven years.
The couple were playful and affectionate on stage. He grabbed her around the waist as they sang together on "In Another's Eyes," and later she announced, "I'm madly in love with the cowboy," and blew him a kiss.
Thursday's show was the first of 11 in the Chicago area before the show heads to Atlanta. In announcing the tour, Brooks said he wanted people leaving to be saying, "Best show I have ever seen," and some agreed that it was.
"It was amazing," said Tina Olson, 35, of Chicago, who was seeing Brooks live for the first time.
"He did a great show," said Scott Mears, 43, of Zion, Illinois, an amateur singer who said he's been to more than 50 concerts. "One of the best."
Brooks retired in 2001 to help raise his three young daughters, though he didn't remain entirely off the radar. In 2009, he embarked on a string of solo shows in Las Vegas, and he has popped up a few times around the country for live performances.