in performance: lucinda williams

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lucinda williams.

It seemed only fitting, being Sunday and all, that Lucinda Williams wound up her tough as oak performance last night at the Opera House with the tabernacle-infused fun of Get Right With God. Admittedly, the snake handling and bed of nails imagery Williams sang of may not have fit everyone’s idea of sermonizing. But there was no doubting the fervor the singer and her extraordinary band had been working up to over the previous two hours.

It started with the deceptively deadpan affirmation of Blessed, worked its way through five tunes from her new double-album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, hit full throttle with a double barrel blast of Change the Locks and Joy and tagged up with the blues before meeting up with the Lord.

Hallelujah to that. Pacing, it turns out, is just one of things Williams masters in concert. Luckily, she also possessed an arsenal of powerfully plain speaking songs that allowed her to work up to such a fuss with authority.

The childhood snapshot Cars Wheels on a Gravel Road and the boozy epitaph Drunken Angel defined the early stages of the show with understated melodies and grooves balanced by devastating narratives. By the time the Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone material kicked in, temperament went a little more hand in hand with tempo, especially on the sin-busting rocker Cold Day in Hell. “You thought you could make it to heaven,” Williams sang with droll confidence. “But, honey, heaven done closed the door.”

As the music intensified, so did the resourceful playing of Williams’ band – guitarist Stuart Mathis (on loan from The Wallflowers), bassist David Sutton and drummer Butch Norton. It was especially to fun watching Norton at work. Think rock drummers are only defined by flashy solos? Not this guy. Norton continually defined grooves and then toyed with them, whether it was the cool drive flowing under People Talkin’ or the rockish might he hammered into the set-closing roots rock parade of Honey Bee.

And what would this Sunday service be without the blues? For that, Williams offered a surprise encore reading of the early Allman Brothers Band classic It’s Not My Cross to Bear, a song that eluded to serious testifying but was grounded in the kind of earthy urgency that fueled all of this fine, fascinating performance.

the post-idol daughtry

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daughtry: josh paul, josh steely, chris daughtry, elvio fernandes and brian craddock. (not pictured: jamal moore).

When you introduce yourself to a prospective pop public by way of network television and then capitalize on your popularity by selling over eight million copies of your debut album, the prospect of altering your sound even a little probably isn’t part of the big career picture.

But when Chris Daughtry is calling the shots, shaking the stylistic tree is part of the fun of being a star.

A season five finalist on American Idol, the North Carolina native formed a band that bore his name with a sound full of pop friendly riffs, proudly anthemic lyrics and an extra large guitar charge – sort of like Nickelback, only nicer. And it hit. Big. The 2006 debut album Daughtry was an immediate smash that had six singles, led by It’s Not Over, scaling the charts over the following year. Three hit followup albums proved the Idol album’s popularity was no fluke.

Then Daughty embraced something all rock stars are taught to avoid: change. For 2013’s Baptized album, he fine-tuned his songwriting, scaled back the guitar amp-age and offered a streamlined version of his band’s familiar brand of pop crunch.

“I definitely went into this with the mindset of not doing anything we’ve done before,” said Daughtry, who will front his namesake band for a Monday concert at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. “I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I just knew that if it sounded anything like what I’ve written before, then it wasn’t good enough for this record. I wanted this record to be a complete departure from what we’ve done in the past. That meant working with different people and different producers. It meant working with people that we’re going to force me out of my comfort zone, because as a writer, when you work with the same people or producers you tend to get into a system that’s comfortable for you.

“I don’t really have a set direction when we start these things. A lot of times you can start writing a bunch of songs and take them apart to see which ones feel fresh and new. Sometimes you pick one and feel that’s the general direction a record should go in. Or you just write and see where it takes you and deal with the direction when it comes time for production. But you still have to be cognizant of what is working on radio, as well. And heavy guitars right now are just not the favorite there. We had to be aware of that and know what we can get away with what we can’t.”

What Daughtry got away with were more melody driven singles like Waiting for Superman and Long Live Rock and Roll that helped retain Daughtry’s strong radio presence, making the band one of the most lasting success stories to emerge from American Idol ranks.

“Everybody’s paths are different,” Daughtry said. “There are certainly still bands out there that get signed the old fashioned way and then there is the avenue I took, which worked well for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work well for everybody. I think you have to go through different doors to see which is going to be the right one.

American Idol is not a guaranteed system of success on anyone’s part. You have to put in the work. Luckily, I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I knew right off the show I had to hit the ground running and start writing and working. I didn’t let a day go by where I wasn’t working. I think the combination of people wanting to hear what I had to say and me doing the work to give them the best I could kind of played hand in hand.

“But a lot of times people come off these shows and think there is this built in success. They wait for it to fall in their lap. I think they’re quickly reminded that’s not the case.”

Daughtry performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 521 Lancaster Ave. in Richmond. Tickets: $39-$79. Call (859) 353-6382 or go to http://ekucenter.com.

spirit and bone

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lucinda williams.

There was a time the only significant gripe fans or critics could muster about the music of Lucinda Williams were the seemingly eternal waits between albums.

Following the release of two initial folk-blues leaning records, eight years slipped by before her landmark self-titled album surfaced in 1988 to introduce the world to the rootsy endearment of Crescent City and the obsessive severity of Change the Locks.

It took another four years before we heard Sweet Old World, an album highlighted by the regal but emotively devastating eulogy within its title track. Then, nothing again for six years. But that wait yielded 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, a genre-defining work for a new Americana generation.

These days, Williams works at an altogether sharper pace – so much so that she attributes the wealth of music on her new Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone album to what she now views as a lengthy stretch of down time from recording.

“It’s been three years since Blessed (her previous record) and this album,” said Williams who returns to Lexington for a Sunday night performance at the Opera House. “That’s a good amount of time to come up with stuff.”

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is the work of an artist that can now boast of being prolific. It’s a double-disc set of 20 songs, all but two of which are exclusively original works of love, loss, contentment, vengeance, heaven, hell – the works. But it’s not just a double album, it a magnum opus of a recording with a 1 ¾ hour running time

“We broke a few rules on this one, definitely,” Williams said. “There’s the whole double album thing, which people think is a little risky because you don’t know how it’s going to go over. A lot of the reason people kind of get nervous about double albums is there will be a handful of good songs on them and the rest of it might be filler. But every so often, you do have these great double albums that have worked, like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East.

“So that was the first rule we broke, the double album. Another was putting Compassion first, a solo acoustic song. Usually you put something like that at the end. I believe it was Greg Leisz (the pedal steel guitar stylist who co-produced Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone with Williams and husband Tom Overby) that suggested putting it first. Initially, I wasn’t sure about that. But it proved to be the right move because the song really grabs you”.

Compassion is different from any other song the songstress has cut because she uses a poem penned by her father, Miller Williams, as lyrics. The album title is also derived from the poem.

“What was difficult about it was just taking a poem and making it into a song. That in and of itself was hard, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. So I worked on it for a couple of days after all the other songs were done and managed to come up with something, and we cut it with just me on guitar. Initially, I was going to add some other stuff to it and make it into a Nick Drake kind of thing – you know, cello and all that to flesh it out. But I went in and demoed it with just my guitar. Greg and Tom both said, ‘Let’s just leave it like it is.’ So we did.”

At the other end of the record sits its only cover tune, a lovely reading of Magnolia, a 1972 song by the great Okie songsmith and guitarist J.J. Cale, who died last year. Williams’ version lingers for nearly 10 gorgeous minutes with an arrangement that culminates in a positively enchanted instrumental exchange between Leisz and guitar titan Bill Frisell

“The other rule we broke was the length of some of the songs,” Williams said. “I mean, I love great guitar playing on some of my favorite albums, like the early Allman Brothers stuff and all those extended jams. Like at the end of Magnolia, the way it just keeps going. That was another thing. There was a lot of spontaneity that went into this album. I think people can tell that.

“We found ourselves in Tulsa just afterr J.J. Cale passed away. He’s from there, so we ended up doing that song during the encore. I used to perform Magnolia back in the ‘70s and always loved it. It sounded so good that when we went to record this album, Tom said, ‘Let’s do that as a tribute to J.J. Cale.’ It’s just a great song.”

in performance: dave mason’s traffic jam

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dave mason.

“Not everybody in England sounds like the Gecko,” remarked Dave Mason last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort after a member of the sold out audience asked why the veteran Brit rocker spoke with little discernible accent.

The short answer was this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hails from Worcester, near the Welsh border, where dialects are less defined than in heavily rural regions of the country. But there is also the none-too-small matter of Mason having spent the better part of the last four decades in California.

During the course of two specifically themed sets designed to form a sort of musical autobiography of the veteran songsmith, vocalist and guitarist, Mason let the pop-rock pasts from both sides of the pond play off each other.

From his late teen years in England as a co-founder of Traffic, Mason delved into a blend psychedelic-based but often prog-leaning excursions like the darkly hued Forty Thousand Headmen (which opened the show), the comparatively roots savvy You Can All Join In, the guitar-dominate party piece Pearly Queen and perhaps Mason’s recognizable composition of the era, Feelin’ Alright. All four tunes came from Traffic’s self-titled 1968 sophomore album.

The songs all sounded remarkably fresh, with Mason’s singing, buried though it often was in the sound mix, reflecting rich detail and confidence. But Mason has long had a curious history with this music. While You Can All Join In and Feelin’ Alright are his own works, the rest of the Traffic material was penned by band mainstays Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi. Two, in fact, (Rock and Roll Stew and a bluesy revamp of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys) were recorded by Traffic four years after Mason’s initial departure.

A little more to the point was a second set devoted primarily to Mason’s California-bound solo career. Much of that, in turn, focused on his extraordinary 1970 solo album, Alone Together. The Traffic set was fun, but the Alone Together songs offered the evening’s most satisfying and complete performances, especially a riveting Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave, where Mason’s guitar soloing strengths, which had been held in reserve up to that point, were given room to roam.

How Do I Get to Heaven, a tribute tune to Capaldi (who died in 2005) from Mason’s new Future’s Past album was another highlight. It linked this pow-wow with the past to Mason’s still-vital here-and-now.

Miranda Lambert returning to Rupp

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Miranda Lambert

Fresh off victories earlier this week at the County Music Association Awards, Miranda Lambert has confirmed a return concert date at Rupp Arena for Jan. 16 with Justin Moore, RaeLynn and Jukebox Mafia opening.

Tickets, at $29.75 and $54.75 each (excluding fees), go on sale at 10 a.m. Nov. 14 through www.ticketmaster.com and www.livenation.com or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

Lambert took top honors on Wednesday for album of the year (for Platinum) and female vocalist of the year at the CMA Awards. She also served up the ceremony’s coolest non-country moment, a bull’s-eye duet of All About That Bass with Meghan Trainor.

The Texas-born singer is no stranger to Lexington. She began performing here as an unknown as part of the annual Red, White & Boom festival shortly after her debut album, Kerosene, was released in 2005. Her most recent Rupp outing, which included an unannounced mini set by her part-time trio Pistol Annies, was in February 2012. Lambert and Moore also played on a Rupp bill with Brad Paisley in 2010.

 

stuck in traffic

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dave mason. photo by chris jensen.

At the heart of the near 50 year career of Dave Mason – a remarkable run that has included collaborations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac in addition to a successful and extensive solo career – sits the sound of Traffic.

It was with the legendary British band that Mason’s musical teeth were cut. It was with that troupe, alongside fellow members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and the late Chris Wood that Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And it is the music of Traffic that the singer, guitarist and songsmith returned to this year for a concert program called Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.

On more of a Kentucky bend, the Traffic Jam tour will mark Mason’s first Central Kentucky performance since a 1978 performance at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. He performs Friday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort.

“I look back on Traffic and regard it as one of the original alternative bands,” Mason said. “I didn’t start writing until Traffic started. There were a lot of diverse tastes in that band, which in the end led to me having to go solo. But during the time of it, I was 19 or 20 years old. When you’re that age, there is nothing really you can’t do.”

Mason cut two psychedelic albums with Traffic before the band initially disintegrated in 1969. A critically acclaimed 1970 solo album Alone Together followed interspersed with guest guitar work on such landmark records as Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet and Harrison’s All Thing Must Pass. Mason reteamed with Traffic for a small handful of 1971 concerts (chronicled on the live album Welcome to the Canteen), but quickly parted ways again to resume a solo career that would eventually yield the hit 1977 album, Let it Flow.

“The show is, I guess, kind of a condensed history of my music from Traffic all the way up to today.” Mason said. “It’s just a travelogue of my career.

“The show is in two parts. The Traffic set has a cool, reworked Dear Mr. Fantasy, (the title tune to Traffic’s 1967 debut album). You Can All Join In and Pearly Queen (the first two songs from the band’s self-titled 1968 sophomore recording) are in there. Then there are things like Medicated Goo (a December 1968 single that wound up on the 1969 compilation Last Exit). Mostly I’m sticking to stuff that was done when I was with the band, but I also worked up my own arrangement of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (from the 1972 album of the same name), even though that was not part of my time with Traffic. Usually, we take a break after that and come back to do stuff from Alone Together, Let It Flow and then some new stuff.”

The “new stuff” leans to Future’s Past, a 2014 recording fashioned very much along the lines of the Traffic Jam shows. There are new tunes (including Good 2 U and How Do I Get to Heaven) along with retooled Traffic and Alone Together songs.

“It’s more a collection of what I considered to be really cool sounding tracks,” Mason said. “I put them together in the hopes that people would enjoy it, obviously. But it’s also for people who maybe have never heard anything by me before. To a lot of them, all this music is going to be new.

“But to other audiences, there is a whole different scenario going on. I am part of the soundtrack of their lives. So a certain song will trigger certain memories for them on where they were, what they were doing. There are a lot of ways the music touches people on a very deep level that, to me, is very interesting.”

critic’s pick 247: daniel lanois, ‘flesh and machine’

lanoisFlesh and Machine is the record long time enthusiasts of Daniel Lanois always hoped he would make. After three decades of applying his stylistic ambience to other artists – namely, albums that heightened or reignited the careers of U2, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, The Neville Brothers, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and a host of others – the producer/guitarist/song stylist now turns his sonic invention to his own music on a gorgeously textured instrumental recording.

Lanois is no stranger to solo sessions. He has been cutting them since the late ‘80s, but they have mostly yielded song oriented works rich with a mix of rootsy sparseness, rockish immediacy and atmospheric invitation. The focus of Flesh and Machine seems to be exclusively on sound – specifically, a wash of guitar, voice and contributions from a few longtime pals processed into an often orchestral whole.

In some instances, recognizing the actual source music is impossible. In others, we hear fragments of melody, beat and groove, but they are seldom sustained. It seems Lanois was intent on creating an instrumental moodpiece for the modern age that discouraged any close consideration of the sum of its parts.

The most dominate and most recognizable inspirations are the early ‘80s recordings Lanois helped design with his foremost mentor, Brian Eno.

On Two Bushas , in particularly, the music flows in as if from the cosmos – chilled and spacious at one moment, lush but cautious the next. The comparisons to the Eno years become more intentional during the album closing Forest City, a luscious, sustained celestial hum peppered by what seems like synthesized fairy dust that recalls the music of Japanese keyboardist Isao Tomita. It is a tune beautifully designed to get lost in.

But Flesh and Machine is far more than an Eno-esque tribute. After the ethereal, vocally processed album intro of Rocco (named for Rocco DeLuca, who provided the source singing), the album explodes into the The End (an ironic title for Flesh and Machine’s second track) with a squall line of ruptured guitar speak from Lanois and free form bashing from longstanding drummer/compadre Brian Blade. The album quickly cools after that, but the attack of The End provides a balance that makes the grace and calm that pervades the rest of the album all the more striking.

There are loads of other delights, as well, including the brief cosmic pop reverie of My First Love, the techno chatter of percussion and keyboards or vocals (or possibly both) on Opera and the waves of what sound like heavily processed pedal or lap steel guitar that dance about on Aquatic.

All of this makes Flesh and Machine a sort of 36 minute sonic vacation. For full effect, put your life on hold as you listen, turn off the lights and let Lanois’ fabric of earthy unrest and otherworldly calm envelop you.

in performance: joe ely and joel guzman

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joe ely.

Among the stories Joe Ely told last night before a capacity crowd at Natasha’s was a yarn about his musical tutelage in West Texas. It dealt with weekend gigs outside Lubbock with early bandmates Jesse Taylor and Lloyd Maines that gradually grew from audiences of 25 to about 100. That was before a local preacher gave a Sunday morning sermon about the sins of Saturday night, mentioning Ely’s name “about seven or eight times” as an example. Convinced he would have to move his band out of town, the champion songsmith and roots rocker decided to finished his commitment of remaining performances, only to find a crowd of 800 awaiting him the following Saturday.

“I sent the preacher two tickets to our next show,” Ely said. “It was a ‘thank you’ for the free advertising.”

Last night, the fervor was perhaps less obvious with Ely, now 67, resetting his high-strung rock ‘n’ roll to an acoustic duo setting with accordionist Joel Guzman. But that simply offered a more intimate setting for the musical stories he has penned over a four decade recording career as well as several prime choices from a few of his Lone Star pals.

The show opening Run Little Pony (an original tune from 2000’s Streets of Sin album), set a blues narrative in motion of a hapless blue collar-ite who blows his track earnings on celebration only to wind up behind bars. “Ain’t got a brain in my head,” Ely sang with dry cunning. “Guess I never will.”

The song also introduced the remarkable support Guzman provided the 1 ¾ hour performance. Though his stage demeanor was reserved, Guzman’s playing was continually joyous as he provided Ely’s everything from orchestral color to rockish punctuation to, in the show’s finest moments, a rich Tex Mex accent.

All of those aspects alternately came into play during I Had My Hopes Up High, the first song from Ely’s self-titled 1977 debut album. A cheerful roots rock performance piece in decades past, Guzman helped this new acoustic version find its own unique footing.

Ely also gave plenty of stage time to tunes by his bandmates in the long running Texas troika The Flatlanders. From the pen of Butch Hancock came the lonesome wail of Boxcars with a spirited jam initiated by Guzman. The other Flatlander, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, was recognized with a light, luscious reading of the plaintive Tonight I’m Gonna Go Downtown. But perhaps Ely’s greatest Texas cover belonged to an elegant but still conversational version of the great Billy Joe Shaver affirmation Live Forever.

Tom Russell’s brilliantly constructed Gailo del Cielo (the most honestly heartbreaking song about a fighting rooster referencing Poncho Villa that you will ever hear) wound the evening down along with Randy Banks’ show-closing Where is My Love.
Ely remarked he first heard Russell’s version of the former blasting from a jukebox in Norway. How fortunate the song, along with all of Ely’s Texas treats, found their way to Lexington last night in such vital, regal and revealing form.

tales from the big emptiness

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joe ely.

He has shared international stages and recordings with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Chieftains and Bruce Springsteen. But delve into the fascinating Americana music Joe Ely has made on his own over the last four decades and you will find all roads lead to Texas.

They might wind up in his birthplace of Amarillo, where Ely was introduced to the possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll. It could be Lubbock, where he discovered how the union of music and culture could transform a town. Then again, his music might take to his current home of Austin, or just outside of it as the veteran songsmith and champion roots rocker still describes himself, at age 67, as an upstart of sorts.

“I’m kind of a noisy neighbor,” said Ely, who performs a duo concert tonight with accordionist/keyboardist Joel Guzman at Natasha’s. “So I live outside of town a little bit. I had to find a spot where I didn’t have anybody within half a mile of me.”

Take in his recordings, from the Tex Mex pageantry of West Texas Waltz to the roadhouse rock and soul of Musta Notta Gotta Lotta to the proud folk balladry of Gallo del Cielo and you get an idea of how Ely could easily wake up the neighbors. But his love of music first took hold during childhood in the heart of a duststorm.

“One of the earliest memories I had of seeing rock ‘n’roll was going with my parents to a Pontiac dealership in a raging duststorm in Amarillo. This was before we moved to Lubbock. There was the stage with a madman wearing a bandana around his nose who was pounding on a piano. The wind was blowing so hard his microphone kept falling over. It was Jerry Lee Lewis. I just thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.”

Ely admitted live music was far from prevalent when his family relocated to Lubbock. Instead, he and soon-to-be singer-songwriter pals Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (who continue to perform together as The Flatlanders) absorbed the blues that came barreling through the airwaves via high wattage radio stations out of Mexico. The live music that did exist in Lubbock tended to indigenous and spontaneous.

“When I was growing up in West Texas, my daddy had a used clothing store,” Ely said. “On the weekends, the migrant workers would come in from the fields and buy work clothes. Lubbock would increase by 50,000 people when the cotton was ripe. All of the migrant workers brought their musical instruments and filled the streets, and what generally was old, drab downtown Lubbock all of a sudden was completely alive with trumpet players and accordions and (guitar-like) bajo sextos. It was really a great time.”

While Ely formed some of his first bands in Lubbock, it was the fertile music community of Austin that gave his music a lasting home. That helped forge an expansive career with a catalogue of roughly 20 albums (including the newly released B484, an archival record cut as a precursor to 1984’s synth-savvy Hi Res) and an increased visibility as both author (he recently published his first novel, Reverb) and visual artist.

“Everytime I start a new record these days, I tend to go back outside of Lubbock and just drive up and down those old two lane roads and seeing absolutely nothing in every direction. That’s somehow inspiring to me. I don’t know why.

“There is just this big emptiness that hits you when you get out of Lubbock. Look in every direction and there’s just flatness. There is something about that giant sky that makes me want to fill it up. I’ve had my ups and downs in the town itself. But that area…I just like that big emptiness.”

Joe Ely and Joel Guzman perform at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $20. Warren Byrom Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.

in performance: garth brooks/trisha yearwood

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garth brooks performing at rupp arena on friday. he played a total of four concerts there this weekend. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

“You better slow things down,” said Garth Brooks last night to the third of the four Rupp Arena audiences he played to this weekend. “Some of you are a little older than the last time we were here.”

At 52, age seemed to be no impediment to the country star with his initial Saturday show clocking in at 2 ¼ hours. While he appeared understandably but unapologetically winded after several songs, the brisk pace of the performance, his vocal might and, most of all, a stage persona fortified by an almost childlike giddiness never wavered.

What was his answer to slowing things down? Try a jubilant version of the 1993 motormouth hit Ain’t Goin’ Down (Till the Sun Comes Up). It wasn’t until the solo acoustic reading of 1990’s Unanswered Prayers, where the audience essentially sang the song back to him, that Brooks allowed himself anything resembling a breather.

The apparent differences between this outing and Friday’s shows were minute. In terms of the setlist, the only adjustments came from allowing Trisha Yearwood a slightly longer cameo set in the middle of the concert (one that gave her time to fit in Georgia Rain and She’s in Love With the Boy), while Brooks saved Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) and the Kenny Chesney-friendly Two Pina Coladas for the end of the show. He also snuck in acoustic revisions of Alabama Clay and The Change as encores.

What was different was the audience tally. Box office estimates for Friday were 19,000 for the first performance and 14,000 for the late show. As expected, last night’s numbers were higher – 21,000 for the early concert and 20,000 for the second.

Through it all, Brooks served as much as a cheerleader of his show as he did as the star, ripping through the more traditional country flavored Rodeo and The Beaches of Cheyenne with the same vigor he gave to his hit covers of Billy Joel’s Shameless and especially Aerosmith’s The Fever.

It was also great to see Leitchfield fiddler Jimmy Mattingly back onstage with Brooks (since his last Rupp show with the singer in 1998, he co-founded the popular bluegrass band The Grascals). A strong instrumental presence for the entire concert, Mattingly was the Cajun-inspired catalyst for the festive encore of Callin’ Baton Rouge.

The only real misstep was the show’s contrived Terminator-esque opening, which was set to the bland title tune from Brooks’ forthcoming Man Against Machine album. For a production seemingly steeped in performance humility (the singer at one point admitted the acoustic guitar he played was mostly a prop to “hide my gut”), the Matrix-style hijinx just seemed silly.

Luckily, by the time Brooks and band were knee deep in the honky tonk charm of Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House two songs later, the machines of the future were at bay as the country comfort of Brooks’ mega-popular past moved in to stay.

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