Diamond Rio proves as entertaining as Mr. Balloon Man
Arlington Theatre, Orange County Fair, Costa Mesa, Cal, July 11. 1999
COSTA MESA, CA - Diamond Rio's performance was preceded by a man who took the stage, blew up a huge plastic blue bubble - larger than himself - and then proceeded to climb in it and dance around. And even though Diamond Rio didn't attempt any such carnival-like contortions to accompany their music, in their own more subtle way, they were just as entertaining as Mr. Balloon Man.
What sets Diamond Rio apart from many other vocal groups is its attention to spot-on musicianship; especially the mandolin work of Gene Johnson.
On this cloudy evening, on a makeshift outdoor stage, Johnson spiced up Diamond Rio's hour-long set of value-saturated songs with sweet and sometimes incredible playing.
Another highlight was bassist Dana Williams's introduction of an Irish instrumental by explaining "Titanic," which the group had recently viewed while on the road, was the inspiration.
He summarized the movie's plot from a stereotypical country boy's perspective by calling the male lead "that little blond haired boy," and the female lead as "that little red haired girl." "I really like that little red haired girl," he added slyly at one point. By telling the film's story as if the audience had not yet seen one of the most watched movies of all time, he had the audience just soaking up his cornball take on Hollywood.
The only low point was a bluegrass medley. While Diamond Rio had all the best intentions, it is just hard on the ears and eyes to watch bluegrass music being played when the keyboard player (Dan Truman) is holding one of those hand held keyboards and the banjo player (Jimmy Olander) is picking an electric model. There have been hi tech rednecks, but this is just going a little too far.
Diamond Rio closed with its new single "How the River Feels," which tells of the overwhelming joy in finding Mr. or Mrs. Right. They then encored with the upbeat title track from its most recent album, "Unbelievable."
Although this open air theatre was probably not the best place to appreciate what a vocal group can do, Diamond Rio more than made up for this potential handicap by just plain playing well.