Concert review: Chesney, McGraw bring party to Pittsburgh

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It was the hard-drinking summer party where the ladies could mix and match bikini tops and cowboy boots, the guys could take off their shirts and show off hard (and not so hard) bodies, ready to holler and fight.

With boat parties lining the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw rolled into Heinz Field Saturday with the Brothers of the Sun Tour, a one-two punch of country superstardom.

The last time they toured together, in 2001, Mr. McGraw was the headliner. This time it was flip-flopped, with Mr. McGraw hitting the stage with the sky still blue and the sun still beating down on part of the field.

Looking like a tanned, cowboy Mr. Clean -- all white, black leather Stetson -- he arrived with the recent single "Felt Good on My Lips" and breezed effortlessly through a set of songs that have kept country radio hopping the past decade and a half.

There was country rock ("Unbroken"), Southern boogie ("Something Like That"), laid-back party tunes ("Mexicoma") and stately ballads, like newcomer "Better Than I Used to Be" and "Everywhere," which was interrupted by a rumble in my neighborhood of the field.

As a nod to the roots, there was a whiff of what you'd get in the old Nashville. "We're gonna get country on your [behind] here," he said leading his band into "Back When," and he did the same on "Down on the Farm."

He revved the engine up at the end with the biggies, including the anthemic "Live Like You Were Dying" and the roadhouse stomp "I Like It, I Love It." By the time the Titans fan was done waving a Terrible Towel and closing with new single "Truck Yeah," it was hard to believe a headliner was coming.

Mr. Chesney made his usual dramatic entrance, popping up from the soundboard for "Beer in Mexico," and then flying on a wire to the stage for another drinkin' song, "Keg in the Closet."

There, he had a band with a line of four guitarists that shook the place, sometimes louder than needed. The smiling Chesney combined high energy and open-armed warmth, praising the Steelers, the boat scene, the radio station, the fans and -- before doing "The Boys of Fall" -- the Rooneys for giving him a plaque pairing his image with Steelers Country.

Mr. Chesney does a lot with what he has. He isn't blessed with one of those bottomless country baritones, and his voice even fades out on some of the verses. But he's got enough to get across downhome country tunes, like "Back Where I Come From," and songs that speak of an easy-going lifestyle ("Summertime," "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems," "Out Last Night").

He was joined by the crowd on power ballad "Anything But Mine" and by opener Grace Potter, very quietly, on "You and Tequila." Midway through, he and the band went off the set list and got a little goofy with covers of "You Really Got Me" and, of all things, the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun."

The anticipated encore meeting was dramatic, as well, with Mr. McGraw rising above the soundboard and working his way through the crowd on their duet of "Feel Like a Rock Star." They chimed in together on "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" and "Indian Outlaw" and brought it home with Jackson Browne's "Running on Empty." If you had a decent camera, you have a picture of Mr. Chesney briefly trading in the cowboy hat for a Steelers helmet. He knows how to make friends in the Steel City.

Jake Owen got the early call and displayed as much star power as you can when a stadium is one-quarter full. The singer from Vero Beach, Fla., fronted a band with a boisterous Southern rock sound. They drove it hard on "Eight Second Ride," slowed it down on the ballad "Don't Think I Can Love You" and tapped into rock nostalgia with "1972." Not only did he cover Alabama's "Tennessee River," but with vocal help from the band, they spiced up the set with the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for your Right (to Party)" and Kiss' "Rock and Roll All Nite."

Some of the people around me wanted Grace Potter and the Nocturnals off the stage after about three songs. They may have rocked a little too much for this gig. Ms. Potter came out showing her Joplinesque pipes on an a cappella version of "Back to the Water," then launched into a set that would have been killer at a jam-band festival.

There was a sizzling guitar jam on "Stop the Bus," which started like Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" and ended like the Outlaws' "Green Grass and High Tides." "Stars" was a towering ballad that would have worked better at night -- and with everyone actually knowing the song. The girls in the cowboy hats were more excited by "We are Young" playing over the PA during the intermission than they seemed to be for the cover of ZZ Top's "Tush." The Nocturnals ended with everyone beating on the drums on "Medicine."

A drum circle, a Kiss cover, "Black and Yellow" during the break, a flying singer, a marina party. You get it all at a "country" jam in 2012.


Scott Mervis:; 412-263-2576. First Published July 1, 2012 4:30 AM


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