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Kenny Chesney pours out the energy in concert

Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass., July 16, 2006

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Kenny Chesney comes off as a laid back guy, more comfortable on some island in the Caribbean than Nashville. Chesney is not particularly a headline grabber, but is hard working and highly productive in the CD release department.

So it comes as departure to seem him doing the live thing, a sold-out stadium show - one of the few he is doing this summer - where the energy came through loud (sometimes a bit too loud) and clear before an enthusiastic crowd, who heard four other big-time country performers as well.

Chesney has been riding high on the country scene for a long healthy run of 11 years and achieved superstar status in the past few. He could not exactly be accused of being hard core country. And that was no different in concert where many of the songs are more mid-tempo rockers with a bit of country instrumentation.

But setting that aside, Chesney gave his all throughout, and that was pretty darn good. While not the first artist to do this, Chesney did not start the 110-minute on stage. He was in the middle of the stadium on a platform singing his new hit "Summertime," a fine opener and brought an extra charge to the proceedings.

Chesney tends to alternate between the fun, easy going, lighter songs often with a Caribbean beat and more heartfelt songs about looking back in time ("Young") or considering what one has done with their life (the very catchy "Living in Fast Forward" from "The Road and the Radio.") He tended to be good in his timing of switching gears at just the right time so that tedium didn't set in, though a few of the mid-tempo rockers do sound very similar and not all that distinguished at least in concert. That was, in part, due to a generally faceless backing band except for energetic fiddler Nick Hoffman.

Chesney cohort Uncle Kracker came out for a strong version of their big tropical hit "When the Sun Goes Down," which came off as very lively. Kracker stayed out for a few more songs as well.

Chesney also did not play it entirely safe. For the first time ever, he played "She's From Boston" from last year's tropical, introspective album, "Be As You Are: Songs From An Old Blue Chair." Made sense given the location of the show, of course, and the rendition was fine.

Chesney probably isn't the archetypical country or music star. (he did the traditional country thing though of signing autographs from the stage after he finished playing.) But with a string of hits and the ability to pull them off in concert, he proved why he is an artist of staying power.

Preceding Chesney were, in order, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Big$Rich and Gretchen Wilson.

All had merits to their stints, which were generally sufficient time-wise with tremendous kudos to concert organizers, artists and road crews for ensuring very short breaks between every act.

Underwood certainly got the goods vocally. The American Idol winner has a powerful voice, but didn't engage in all that much of her country pop. Instead, for the most part, Underwood got rid of the country. She turned in a decent reading of "Sweet Child o' Mine," the Guns N' Roses hit, though she is no Axl Rose.

Dierks Bentley's star is on the rise through two albums, and he continued showing why in concert. Dressed in black t-shirt and jeans as his backing band was as well, Bentley possesses a confident stage presence without being overly so. Fortunately, he has a slew of good songs to back that up. He played one new song, "Every Mile a Memory," from a disc due out later this year.

Not only does he write good melodies, but he can write serious songs ("Come a Little Closer" and "Settle for a Slowdown") along with the jocular ("Domestic Light and Cold") without falling victim to being too cut too often.

Big$Rich proved very popular with the throng. Big Kenny and John Rich have a number of pretty good songs, some clearly are on the silly side (their hit and set opener "Comin' to Your City"), but they also could get more serious ("8th of November" about a soldier).

The problem is they go to the gimmick well way too often. Doing so included bringing out their friend Two Foot Fred, who doesn't really do anything on stage except stand there. Kenny led the Pledge of Allegiance for reasons unknown (unless it was to show that these country guys for all their irreverence are patriotic). They would benefit from the way less is way more category.

Another friend, hick hopper Cowboy Troy, made a guest appearance as well including a spirited "I Play Chicken with the Train."

While popular and well-received one is left with the impression that Big$Rich will not have the long career the headliner has enjoyed if they continue being too cute.

Big$Rich friend Gretchen Wilson preceded Chesney with an hour-long set that was extremely similar content-wise to a Providence show she did in March. Wilson benefits from excellent vocals - she can belt out the rockers (the catchy opener, "Here for the Party" and "All Jacked Up") along with honky tonkers ("When It Rains, I Pour" and "One Bud Wiser") and weepers ("I don't Feel Like Lovin' You Today" and "When I Think About Cheatin'"). Unfortunately, Wilson's repertoire still included Heart's "Barracuda" and Led Zep's "Black Dog." Both were done better in the stadium setting than an indoor arena, but they have little to do with most of what Wilson is trying to do, and she ought to abandon that, especially give the strength of her material. She also fortunately played down the redneck rebel attitude, which gets old quick.

Fortunately for a show stretching from 3:30 p.m. until a bit past 10 p.m., fans were greeted to five acts who all had genuine merit no matter how strong their country quotient was.