in performance: kenny chesney

kenny chesneyEven a country music beachcomber like Kenny Chesney had to admit in the midst of the most improbable concert to roll into downtown in ages that summertime was still a ways off.

Of course, wherever Chesney travels, a bit of the tropics tends to follow. On Friday night, in the teeth of one of the nastiest storms so far this winter, Chesney took his fun-in-the-sun country pop not to the cavernous Rupp Arena, but straight to the heart of The Dame. There he played, along with his seven member band, on a tiny club stage without his usual playground of lighting rigs and video screens. But downsizing the arena props proved to be half the fun.

Friday’s date with The Dame – the singer’s first concert appearance of 2008 and one of only seven club outings on his Keg in the Closet Tour – was a vastly looser affair than any of Chesney’s numerous Rupp outings. Before a sold out crowd of roughly 350 that included Vice Mayor Jim Gray, Chesney offered a program chock full of hits that shifted from the show-opening Live Those Songs to the island reverie No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem to the brezzy pop stride of Beer in Mexico.

Chesney seemed to revel the bar setting. Sure, the looseness got a little too loose at times, as in the botched cues that made Big Star something of a big mess. But even then, the mood compensated. Chesney remained all smiles, slapped hands with fans at the front of the stage and, in general, made the boast of “I feel right at home here” seem quite genuine.

Due to the show’s late starting time (Chesney didn’t take the stage until 10:10), only the first half of Chesney’s one hour, 45 minute performance could be reviewed before deadline. But that still left time for numerous highlights, specifically the frat-country guitar strut of the tour’s namesake tune, Keg in the Closet, the midtempo seasonal meditation Summertime and the affirmative ballad One of the These Days.

Even Chesney’s appearance was extra casual. Instead of the requisite cowboy hat, the singer opted for a functional yet fashionable Cleveland Indians baseball cap.

Of course, the sheer unlikelihood of an event like this, its impromptu scheduling (the show wasn’t announced until Wednesday) and especially its place in what has been a tumultuous week for The Dame (given the unveiling of the proposed CentrePointe development, which could possibly demolish the club as early as this summer) almost overshadowed the concert itself.

But Chesney is arguably the most bankable country star on the planet. Having such a visible artist take such an unintentional but commanding role in downtown nightlife, even if it was just for one night, was a joy that had to crack the exterior of even the most hardened critic of his music.

There were signs of Chesney’s celebrity status all about Friday’s show, of course – specifically the army of stagehands and security guards along with an arsenal of guitars squeezed into the short passageway that led from the club’s stage to its downstairs green room.

But by the same token, there was remarkably little fuss outside the club, save for the wait fans had to endure in the midst of snow and freezing rain before being admitted to The Dame. Once inside, though, as real of a summertime spirit as could be summoned quickly warmed everyone up.



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