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Chesney: many hits, few surprises

Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion, The Woodlands, Texas, May 3, 2009

Reviewed by Michael Sudhalter

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One evening after a rain and wind-shortened performance in Dallas, Kenny Chesney continued the appropriately named Sun City Carnival Tour on a mild Sunday night in suburban Houston. Chesney, who long ago traded in fiddles and honky-tonks for guitars and tiki bars, started the 105-minute set with lots of fiddle action on She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy, one of the biggest novelty songs of his career and a hit that's now a decade old.

Dressed in a sleeveless T-shirt, Chesney chugged out his hits with little talk or playful banter with the fans. His second volume of greatest hits streets May 19, and there's no doubt, that this show was promoting those tunes.

Chesney was solid as he cranked out his hits, but there were few surprises in the show as he went from Live Those Songs to Beer in Mexico. He didn't quite hit the island mode - shockingly - until the sixth song of the set - Guitars and Tiki Bars.

Backed by his 12-piece band - which included a four-man horn section - Chesney performed his new single, Out Last Night, a party anthem that will appear on his upcoming album. On I Go Back, Chesney mixed things up a little bit with a soft - almost spoken - intro to the hit song; it was a nice change from the predictability of the rest of the set.

It was the beginning of a few nice surprises, including a short recorded intro to Anything But Mine, an acoustic version of Down The Road which Chesney said was inspired by his upbringing in East Tennessee and a saxophone solo on Me And You - one that Chesney pulled out of the archives. It was back to more of the same with the rocking anthems Living In Fast Forward and Young. During the latter, he reached into the audience and briefly brought a star-struck female fan on to the stage to dance and sing along.

Before singing Back Where I Come From, Chesney thanked the Houston country radio stations for playing his songs when lots of others were not. The lone cover of the night was John Mellencamp's Jack and Diane. That performance was decent, but nothing spectacular.

Miranda Lambert's 40-minute performance involved a lot more of a hard rock sound than in past performances. About half of her set involved cover songs, including Joan Jett's I Love Rock and Roll where she didn't put much of an original spin on it. In past concerts, Lambert would cover country songs like Steve Earle's Hillbilly Highway, but no such gems were on the set list on this night. Lambert performed her new single, Dead Flowers and sat down in front of the stage to sing the ballad, More Like Her. She notably omitted her first single, the rustic Me and Charlie Talking.

Lambert told the crowd that in her hometown of Lindale, Texas - about four hours northeast of Houston - that you have to drive 30 minutes to buy alcohol. That inspired her to record Dry Town - the most country-sounding tune of the set and the highlight of the show.

Lady Antebellum opened the concert with a 25-minute set that included the trio's hits I Run To You and Love Don't Live Here.