Blake Shelton, The Band Perry and Neal McCoy Ak-Chin Pavilion 9/5/14
It's the beginning of September, and it's still more than 100 degrees after dark. Everyone within a seven-row radius is fanning themselves or buying water bottles to roll on themselves. All musicians, by the end of their sets, looked as if they had just gone pool-hopping. No one seemed to give a damn, because this is a country show, and when you go to see Blake Shelton, The Band Perry and Neal McCoy, you hitch up your bootstraps, stop complaining and strap in.
McCoy, who acted as MC for the evening, had no shortage of charisma, setting the tone for the tour stop. Bringing out some of his own hits, including the classic "Wink," McCoy and his small band took to the stage's catwalk to run through covers to keep the amphitheater's energy up while delivering a set of his own. Take note, booking agents and promoters -- engaging touches likes these, as rarely as they may come, are well worth it and keep people in their seats all night.
One of the night's most pleasant surprises came with The Band Perry's set. You wouldn't have been remiss in coming for the country siblings alone, as they delivered a polished rock show with plenty of stage banter, along with a rollicking cover of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls" to boot. Of the three times I've seen The Band Perry over the past three years, this was by far their most cohesive set yet, down to the point of actually feeling choreographed. The most prominent gripe I've had about the band in the past, in which they tend to lose steam near the halfway mark of their set, was fully quashed. Kimberly Perry, the frontwoman and likely the face you know best with the band, helped keep momentum through their set with big vocal runs on "All Your Life" and their chart-topping "If I Die Young."
As an act that primarily relies on three-piece harmonies, even if Kimberly's voice is always highest in the mix, the sound at Ak-Chin Pavilion had Perry brothers Neil (who made a bold, almost superhuman choice of wearing leather pants onstage on a 100-degree evening) and Reid mixed hard right and hard left. The stereo divide was often so great that it was hard to appreciate the subtleties, and highlighted the rare mistakes, of the band's vocal harmonies from where we were sitting. Regardless, The Band Perry seems to have come into their own live, owning their wheelhouse and proving that they're no longer a flash in the pan.
We were all there for Blake, however, and the entire arena let it be known from the rumbling opening notes of "All About Tonight." Shelton's time on NBC's music contest show The Voice has definitely added to his hambone persona in the best way, bringing the sheer entertainment value of his shows to an even higher degree. He's an unabashed Arizona Cardinals fan as well, even visiting the team at practice the day of show, and showed his pride in a big way toward the end of his set.
For all of his rocking numbers, like "Kiss My Country Ass" and "Hillbilly Bone," Shelton also showed a milder side that he has just really kept to "Austin" in his past sets I've seen. About three-quarters of the way through, he brought his Takamine acoustic guitar out to the catwalk's end and went through "My Eyes," a tearjerking rendition of "Over You" and, of course, "Austin." Shelton's version of "Over You," the song his wife, Miranda Lambert, is better known for yet is penned about his own brother, was a poignant moment that played nicely against his otherwise raucous presence.
In a set that spanned almost two hours and rarely felt as such, it was Shelton's first encore cover of Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," in which he returned to the stage in a #10 "Shelton" Cardinals jersey and Cards hat, that was most surprising, team love aside. Shelton has a silky-smooth vocal range that rarely sees a hiccup, but toward the climatic end of "Footloose" he let go with some top-range vocal work that put most other encores I've seen to shame.
For a bill that was as stacked as it is, and despite the oppressive heat, the Ten Times Crazier tour blew by in what felt like 45 minutes. Rarely do I turn down a country show, and often do I wish I could replay them again, but the evening moved along effortlessly and was over before we knew it, leaving us wanting more. That's the mark of a hell of a good time.
Personal Bias: I've spent enough time sober at various Country Thunders to see how these headlining acts have grown. Retrospectively, that was a good thing.
Overheard In The Crowd: Girl in pink, rhinestoned cowboy boots, wearing a rhinestone belt: "I hate these people." Don't you mean yourself? Did the rhinestones not work out for you on your last cattle drive? Did you scuff your fuchsia cowgirl boots mucking stalls last week? Stop.
Random Notebook Dump: Shelton's calling for everyone to turn on their iPhone flashlights during "Home" and the result was actually a really, really cool moment and made taking photos during a concert acceptable for all of three minutes.
Blake Shelton: All About Tonight The More I Drink She Wouldn't Be Gone Doin' What She Likes Kiss My Country Ass Mine Would Be You Nobody But Me Some Beach Ol' Red Who Are You When I'm Not Looking Hillbilly Bone Sure Be Cool If You Did Neon Light My Eyes Over You Austin Drink On It Home Honey Bee Boys 'Round Here
Encore: Footloose God Gave Me You
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