Reba, Brooks and Dunn Use Country to Rock Caesars

Photo by Justin McIntosh

Photo by Justin McIntosh

Songs? Country. Vibe? Rock. Result? Entertaining. As long as the third holds up, why quibble over whether the first and second match up?

Opening their residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, the single-plus-duo-equals-trio team of Reba McEntire with Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn reliably delivered the expected goods from their separate and collaborative catalogs.

Appreciating it fully, however, assumes you’re seated somewhere in the vast venue where you’re not the victim of sonic assault. At least where this patron was positioned (house-left, about 20 rows up), the sound design was sometimes so overwhelming it stretched the music into aural Silly Putty, further distorted by a blasting 10-piece band.

Nor did a metallic, industrial-style set (often annoyingly strafed with flashing lights) do the stars any aesthetic favors. Given that the gig is an amped-up concert rather than a production show with shifting sets, the overall look remains static and chilly. Imposing, yes. Inviting, no. Minus onstage monitors that would’ve provided cheap-seaters a closeup look at the headliners, the only modest visual diversions were on a background screen wallpapered with mostly generic vistas.

Yet this kick-ass triumvirate mostly battled past the Thunderdome syndrome. And they did it devoid of the down-home, sometimes too-precious coziness of the Grand Ole Opry, opting for a rock passion that doesn’t sacrifice their country roots.

With “Play Something Country,” the playful threesome set a tone that rocked as much as it twanged. After thanking fans for sticking by her for “the last 107 years” and rolling out her new single, “Going Out Like That,” McEntire retreated as Brooks and Dunn took over for a barn-burning set. Over two strong hours, the duo ran through favorites including “Neon Moon,” “Rock my World (Little Country Girl”),” “Believe” and “Ain’t Nothing ’bout You.”

At age 60, McEntire struts around as if the last 30 years were a mere finger snap, holding center stage with an affable command, and connecting with fans at the far ends. Making a dramatic entrance, she was both haunting and hellacious in a cover of Vicki Lawrence’s “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” turned in fine versions of “Turn on the Radio” and “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and teamed with the dudes in a spirited reprise of their hit, “If You See Him/If You See Her.”

In a bracing segment—as a circular curtain ribboned in light rose slowly to reveal her in a fire-red dress—McEntire belted out what many consider her signature tune: a rip-snortin’ cover of Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy.” Perhaps the only miscue is her theme to her 2001-2007 sitcom, performed to a clip reel, which plays like uninspiring, self-serving nostalgia.

Fans often leapt up during the show, and the sing-along/dance-along vibe hit its zenith when Brooks and Dunn took off on their infectious “Boot Scootin’ Boogie.” And in a patriotic finale, “Only in America” climaxed with snappy salutes from a line of sailors onstage, as the crowd hooted and cheered.

This is what it looks like when country rocks the house.

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