Photos by Joe Ledford/The Star. To see a photo gallery, go here.
For the performers, the benefit of a stadium concert is all in the numbers. In one show you can play to a crowd larger enough to fill three arenas, or more. It means fewer performances, less time on the road. The challenge, though, is how to bring the show to the fans sitting farthest away, in the last rows of the upper-decks.
Kenny Chesney has figured all that out. This month, for the ninth year in a row, he launched another summer stadium tour. Sunday, it stopped at Arrowhead Stadium and for the second year in a row, it drew about 50,000 fans. (He also played Arrowhead in July 2011.) And thanks to an enormous and spectacular audio and video presentation –- about 80 tractor-trailers worth of equipment, reportedly -- and his usual high-energy performance, he gave even the fans in the less-expensive seats a worthwhile experience.
The show was a double-bill: Chesney’s co-headliner was Tim McGraw, still one of country music’s biggest live draws. He followed opening sets by Jake Owen and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals.
Most fans were still filing in during Owen’s set, which included “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You” and “Eight Second Ride” and a bit of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.”
Potter is a dynamic live performer from Burlington, Vt., but hers is primarily rock music with not the slightest of country accents. Despite her booming voice, her short leather skirt and her stage antics –- dancing around barefoot, pounding the kick drum with a mallet -– the crowd for the most part ignored her set. It didn’t help that her voice got lost in the mix several times; plus she was doing new material from an album to be released this week. The highlight of her set: the cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Happy.”
The place was about as full as it would get when McGraw hit the stage, bronzed and buffed, dressed in white except for the black cowboy hat. For about 100 minutes, he walked the stage, pounding his chest, pointing to the faraway fans, shaking hands with those up front and singing most of his big hits. He strapped on a guitar a few times, too, but mostly for effect.
Last year, McGraw overhauled his band the Dancehall Doctors, firing some, adding new members and dropping the name, apparently. They appeared younger, at least in fashion. One guy looked poached from a Warped Tour band, and the piano player had a little Ben Folds thing going. And McGraw apparently gave them wide berth to hot-dog it around stage. They did plenty of that.
He played a couple new songs, including his closer, the gritty country-rocker “Truck Yeah,” which seems per-destined for commercial. And he played the favorites, which started some stadium-wide sing-alongs. The loudest of those came during the anthem “Live Like You Were Dying.”
As his set started, Chesney popped up, guitar in hand, and took his post on a small stage atop the sound tent in the middle of the field, singing “Beer in Mexico,” one of several country-pop tunes about the beach life. From there, he rode a chair lift to the stage and filled the next two hours with hits and a few new songs, including the ballad “Come Over.” And lots of energy.
He has learned to play to the folks in the back of a football stadium, with the help of some dazzling videos and lighting. The stage was flanked by enormous video screens that broadcast scenes from the stage and the crowd around it. Behind the band, an enormous bank of screens broadcast other images and videos choreographed to the music.
The crowd got his standards, such as “Summertime,” “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” “Back Where I Come From.” He delivered a surprise: a solo/acoustic version of “Old Blue Chair.” Potter joined him for “You and Tequila,” another quiet number.
And not too long after he closed his own set with “Boys of Fall,” he and McGraw re-emerged and finished the night performing a four-song encore, including “Rockstar,” their collaboration from the upcoming Chesney album, plus another of Chesney’s giant hits, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
They closed with a cover of Jackson Browne’s “Runnin’ on Empty,” a song about the hard life on the road as a touring band. That’s not quite what this weekend-only tour is like, but by the time show was over, more than six hours after it started, most everyone in the place, fans and performers, looked satisfied and out of gas.
Tim McGraw: Felt Good On My Lips; For A Little While; Down On The Farm; Real Good Man; Last Dollar (Fly Away); Unbroken; Everywhere; Where The Green Grass Grows; Mexicoma; All I Want Is A Life; Just To See You Smile; Better Than I Used To Be; Let It Go; How Bad Do You Want It; Sing Me Home; Something Like That (A Heart Don’t Forget); Southern Voice; Live Like You Were Dying. Encore: Cowboy In Me; I Like It, I Love It; Truck Yeah.
Kenny Chesney: Beer In Mexico; Keg In The Closet; Summertime; Reality; Live Those Songs; No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem; What I Need To Do; I Go Back; Come Over; Anything But Mine; You and Tequila; Back Where I Come From; Living In Fast Forward; Young; Somewhere With You; Never Wanted Nothing More; Old Blue Chair; Out Last Night; When The Sun Goes Down; Don’t Happen Twice; The Boys Of Fall.
Chesney/McGraw: Rockstar; She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy; Indian Outlaw; Runnin’ On Empty.
| Timothy Finn, The Star