Review: Kenny Chesney rocks Garden with country

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The bubbly performers at Thursday night’s country music triple-bill entertained the audience with several games. There was Catch My Guitar Pick and the old favorite Who Can Scream Loudest, but the most intriguing was called Is This Country Music?

This game has been going on for years, of course, as country artists try to play tag with other popular genres, and on Thursday the performers chased after hard rock, slick pop, even R&B and calypso. Judging from the crowd’s reaction, in this game everybody wins.

Kenny Chesney, the headlining act, set a certain tone by showing a video not of trucks or American flags but of parrots, palm trees and even a Johnny Depp look-alike dressed in pirate regalia. (The tour is being billed as the Flip Flop Summer Tour.) Chesney took the stage to a tape of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and for the next 90 minutes he danced between that band’s chugging rock and Jimmy Buffett’s beachy, beer-buzz pop.

Unlike the Toby Keiths and Brad Paisleys of the genre, Chesney has never established a strong persona. His song choices did reveal a running theme – “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problems” extolled the virtues of a warm-weather vacation, “Living in Fast Forward” advocated slowing down, and on “Young” he marveled, “Man I don’t know where the time goes” – but who wants to be known as the country singer who craves down time?

Still, Chesney was nothing if not eager to please. Twice he brought out four Yankees players – Roger Clemens, Chris Britton, Johnny Damon and Andy Phillips – to sign a guitar and hand it to some tyke in the audience. And as the band vamped on the final bars of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy,” Chesney spent several minutes autographing pictures, posters, shirts and even a naval cap, which earned him nearly as much goodwill as his songs.

Singer Jennifer Nettles and guitarist Kristian Bush, better known as Sugarland, played second on the bill and strayed even farther from country music. They opened with a brief cover of Pearl Jam’s “Better Man,” which led somewhat awkwardly into the fizzy pop tune “Settlin’,” from their Mercury album “Enjoy the Ride.” But the highlight of their 45-minute set was a lilting, bluegrass version of “Irreplaceable,” Beyoncé’s R&B breakup hit. It’s been done in Spanish, so why not with a twang?

During Pat Green’s short opening set there wasn’t a cowboy hat on stage, which was fitting: Like the acts that would follow him, Green has one eye, maybe both, on the rock world. (His new album on BNA, “Cannonball,” even features a song about listening to “The Boss on the radio.”) Green wrapped his set with the ballad “Wave on Wave,” which slipped into U2’s “With or Without You.”

KENNY CHESNEY. Country music, loosely defined. With Sugarland and Pat Green. Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

One Response to “Review: Kenny Chesney rocks Garden with country”

  1. […] Rafer Guzman wrote a blistering review of last Thursday’s Kenny Chesney/Sugarland/Pat Green concert. He says “During Pat Green’s short opening set there wasn’t a cowboy hat on stage, which was fitting: Like the acts that would follow him, Green has one eye, maybe both, on the rock world.” (via Take Country Back) […]

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