Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Kenny Chesney Rocks (Literally) LA's Staples Center

Variety's Steve Mirkin: "...little of Kenny Chesney's "Somewhere in the Sun" tour that stopped into Staples Center Friday night could be called country. There may be a pedal steel guitar and a fiddle player -- and he still wears his signature cowboy hat -- but what he really wants to do is rock.

"He's preceded onstage by an aural montage of songs by AC/DC, who promises there'll be "rocking at the show tonight," Queen's stadium favorite "We Will Rock You," Ram Jam's "Black Betty" and a video of Sammy Hagar welcoming the aud to the show. A curtain (emblazoned with a tattoo-styled drawing of a pneumatic woman in a bikini astride a leaping marlin) drops, revealing Chesney's seven-piece band playing the fraternity boogie of "Keg in the Closet" on a two-tiered stage, complete with a catwalk, giant video screens and twin Marshall stacks the size of Hummers flanking it. And Chesney makes his entrance from the rear of the arena, flying over the aud's heads on a chair.

"Like many current rock bands, Chesney pulls his influences from the mid-'70s to the early '80s, but instead of the jittery, angst-ridden sounds of New Order, Gang of Four or Echo and the Bunnymen, Chesney draws on the heartland rock of John Cougar Mellencamp (he covers "Hurts so Good" with opening act Gretchen Wilson), Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimmy Buffett. The riff at the heart of "Big Star" echoes "Brown Sugar"; "That's Why I'm Here" built to a swaying power ballad climax; and his duet with special guest Uncle Kracker included bits of "Drift Away" and the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider." But the slick, tightly controlled production has the same connection to the rock shows of that earlier era as Universal CityWalk has to Coney Island: It's spiffed up, bigger than life and surprisingly impersonal. With his eyes shaded by his wide-brimmed hat -- only his finely chiseled jaw is visible -- Chesney tends to emote with his arms. He wears a dark sleeveless T-shirt so they're easily seen, and he keeps them in constant motion: waving and pointing at the aud, outstretched during the ballads and high-fiving everything in his reach.

"His recent marriage to Renee Zellweger is alluded to only once (when a picture of her star on the Walk of Fame appears shows up during "Back Where I Come From"). And the baby boomers who make up a large part of the audience like it that way.

"Chesney allows them to relive the concert experiences of their youth, only without the messiness and discomfort. "

For Mirkin's entire review of Chesney's 2005 show click here.

Of Gretchen Wilson, he writes: "...(she) also straddles country and rock, the latter most pronounced on her covers of Heart and Led Zeppelin. The self-proclaimed "Redneck Woman" can deliver the Patsy Cline styled weepie "When I Think About Cheatin' " and hit the honky tonks on the swaggering "Homewrecker." She previews a few songs from her sophomore Epic album, "All Jacked Up," including "Skoal Ring" and "Politically Uncorrect." She hasn't lost any of her feistiness; the latter manages to make supporting the troops and reading the Bible sound like acts of rebellion."

Kenny Chesney (Staples Center, Los Angeles; 17,000 seats; $59.95 top)
Presented by Nederlander, AEG and Cruzan Rum.
Reviewed June 17, 2005.
Band: Chesney, Sean Paddock (band leader), Wyatt Beard, Steve Marshall, Tim Hensley, Jim Bob Gairrett, Clayton Mitchell, Nick Hoffman.
Special guest: Uncle Kracker.
Also appearing: Gretchen Wilson, Pat Green.

Another Mirkin review in Variety: Kelly Clarkson

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