Brooks & Dunn's Wild West show wasn''t wild, but it was good
Devore, Cal., Blockbuster Pavillion, April 27 2002
DEVORE, CA - Near the end of Trick Pony's set, on this blustery April day in normally warm and sunny Southern California, a great big pelican swooped over the audience from the back of this outdoor amphitheater and landed at the foot of the stage. The shivering audience was transfixed. The band was stunned. And at song's end, bass player Ira Dean commented, appropriately, "We was about to break into "Free Bird." And that, my friends, was as wild as this year's edition of Brooks & Dunn's "Neon Circus & Wild West Show" got.
But 'not wild' is not the same as not good, as there was plenty of fine country music played during this nearly five-hour concert extravaganza.
With four other acts filling out the bill, Brooks & Dunn were left with a brief hour window to cap off the show. Wisely, they filled out this short allotted time frame with mostly hits. They opened with "Only In America," which was nothing more than yet another patriotic country song back when Brooks & Dunn played it in support of the "Steers & Stripes" album prior to September 11. It's a sort of an unintentional anthem, now. They then followed this up with the lusty "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You," for one of the oddest concert song segues in some time. Sometimes hit songs make for strange bedfellows in a concert context.
Musical highlights came from an authentic blues-rock reworking of "Boot Scootin' Boogie," replete with nice harmonica work by Brooks. The surging "Brand New Man" was also a musical flashbulb and worked well within the context of a stage set lit up like the cross between a pinball machine and a Vegas slot machine.
B & D were preceded by the unlikely tour mate choice of Dwight Yoakam, who breathed a welcome breath of honky tonk authenticity into the evening. He took the stage to the decidedly un-country strains of David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel," in front of a backdrop which read, "Bakersfield Biscuits Hour (More Or Less)," and then played for exactly one hour, to the minute.
Memorable moments included the barroom-ready "What's Left Of Me," which he co-wrote with Mick Jagger for the "West Of Heaven, South Of Hell" soundtrack, and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," (or anything else, for that matter, where Yoakam vocally played off his lead guitarist, Pete Anderson).
Gary Allen must be getting awfully tired of always being the groomsman, but never the groom. The last two times he's played this close to his hometown, it's been as an opening act. And just thirty minutes of stage time wasn't nearly enough to get into a good groove. Unlike his last opening slot (with Alan Jackson), this time he decided to put a few songs into a medley, he shortened his surf rock/"Runaway" segment significantly, but he at least performed complete versions of "Smoke Rings In The Dark" and "Right Where I Need To Be." Alas, this was, once again, somebody else's wedding party.
Animal interruptions aside, Trick Pony served notice that country acts can rock out, without also appearing to devolve into some kind of a bad '80s hair band. Their cover of Johnny Cash's "Big River" shook the joint but good, and their debut hit "Pour Me" went down like one tall glass of the hard stuff.
On the flip side of this coin, Chris Cagle rocked hard, but not particularly well. "Play It Loud" was not only one of his songs, but also his musical motto as well. And his cover of Charlie Daniels' strident "In America" proved that subtlety is not one of his stronger points.
Compared to last year's show, there were a number of obvious improvements to be found in 2002's edition of the "Neon Circus." There was more music, better acts, at least one female performer (Heidi Newfield of Trick Pony) and, thankfully, less Cledus T. Judd. Then again, the weather was better last year. But at least with this latest package, one wasn't just braving the elements in vain.