Country music is a genre that sometimes has been accused of being nearly indistinguishable from pop. Rascal Flatts is a prime example. They have 12 No. 1 singles including two on the pop charts. Every album has at least gone platinum.
They brought all that firepower to a rain soaked First Niagara Pavilion Saturday night on the "Changed" tour. The Ohio trio put on a glitzy, high volume show to a crowd so devoted, the lawn remained nearly full through an hour long torrential downpour. The show started off with a scorching version of "Banjo" as guitarist Joe Don Rooney shredded on his Les Paul.
Lead singer Gary LeVox's power simply blows up hits like "Stand" and "Me and My Gang." Somehow his upper register is silky and makes the ballads soar. The latter part of the 22-song set included covers of Bill Withers' "Lean on Me" and Journey's "Open Arms." A drum solo was one of the more fun parts of the show, especially when Mr. Rooney oined in with some uncharacteristic heavy metal guitar effects.
The show closed with the moving "What Hurts the Most" and an all-out jam on "American Band" with the opening acts.
Country pioneers they are not and it is unlikely Rascal Flatts would be a top jukebox selection in a country purist's honky tonk, but they are a record label's dream; slick and bankable with crossover appeal.
Either way, their fan base (a.k.a. Flatt Heads) wins because the formula doesn't look like it's going to change.
Edens Edge made the most of the tough early time slot, endearing themselves to the crowd by praising Pittsburgh at every opportunity and delivering catchy numbers like "Skinny Dippin" and "Amen."
The alt-country sound of ACM Song of the Year winners Eli Young Band followed and they introduced their No. 1 "Crazy Girl" by thanking the crowd for calling radio stations and making their request by saying "I don't know who sings it, but I like it."
Little Big Town is one of country's most solid openers and could easily pull its own weight as a top headline act. Fueled by the high octane harmonies of Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, decibel levels reach dangerous proportions on hits like "Little White Church" and "Boondocks." Their versatility was evident on an all-out country rendition of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way."
The bottom line: If you wanted to see a country show, you had better have gotten there early.
Michael Rampa is a freelance writer for the Post-Gazette.