Keith Anderson and Blake Shelton (two acts that I had never heard of) were the openers. Their acts consisted of pretty standard rock grooves with overlaid country vocals, the occasional attempt at a guitar solo (more on that later), and too many shoutouts to the audience.
Performer: D'you folks like beer??
Audience: Yea! Wooo! Beer! Woo!
Performer: All the redneck girls in the audience, make some noise!
Chicago suburban chicks with cowgirl hats: *SCREAM* YEAAH!!!
ad nauseam. It annoys me when performers ask the audience to "make some noise" too often and too early in the concert. Let your music and your performance inspire the noisemaking. Overall though, the opening acts sufficed; they did what opening acts are supposed to do -- Inspire eventual cries of "Get off the stage! Let's hear some Rascal Flatts!"
When the Flatts weren't playing their standard radio songs, they pulled out some interesting stuff that revealed a lot about them to me. The violin player had a giant improvizatory solo number that could have been a sideshow act for Yngwie Malmsteen (a 1980s shred guitarist). It was amazing, but I couldn't help but think how out of place it was at a country music concert. There were several other jam numbers that sounded like YES songs, too. It became really clear to me that these musicians are not finding enough of an outlet in the tightly structured, ultra clean radio singles of the Rascal Flatts.
And yet, it is a bit of a precarious balance... too many 80s hair band jams, and a large body of fans get alienated. Not enough jamming, and the musicians will be unfulfilled.
Don't believe me about this 80s phenomenon? Then you won't believe this encore:
"Pour Some Sugar on Me, You Give Love a Bad Name, Born in the USA" MEDLEY.
I was amazed at how overtly they were pushing their audience towards classic rock. Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen -- I mean, damn. I definitely enjoyed it, but I can just imagine some chump in the front row with acid-washed ambercrombie jeans and a cowboy hat having an identity crisis.
"B-b-b-but this isn't country... am I supposed to like this music or not? Someone please tell me how I'm supposed to react!!!"
I never thought I'd say this, but country music is quietly filling the space left by the disappearance of rock 'n' roll. Yes, you heard me - Country is turning into classic rock.
And it's not just the Rascal Flatts -- the opening acts were trying the same stuff. So many of their songs had the design and instrumentation of regular rock songs, with nothing but a cowboy hat and a southern twang to differentiate them. Once you start regularly using overdriven guitars with screaming 10 second sustains, it's not long before the "country" label becomes little more than a semantic distinction.
And speaking of cowboy hats... I was amused how Gary Levox gently put one on his head for about 15 seconds (taking care not to ruin his gelled hair), and then threw it out into the crowd. A nice, symbolic gesture. Next assignment -- kiss a baby in front of the camera.