Sawyer Brown, the reigning bad boys of contemporary country, rolled into Salt Lake Saturday night, worked the crowd into a hot 'n' sweaty frenzy and dished out a healthy dose of full-throttle rock 'n' (oops) . . . country.
As a result, the country music establishment doesn't like Sawyer Brown and Sawyer Brown - a band that draws more from Lynyrd Sky-nryd than from Hank Williams - doesn't necessarily like the country music establishment. All of which furthers the rebellious outlaw image of the band. All of which makes them that much more popular with their fans.
And no one gets as pumped up as Sawyer Brown fans. These are folks who like to dance on top of their chairs and scream at the top of their lungs. A Fresh Aire concert this was not.
With crazy man Mark Miller leading the cheers, Sawyer Brown (Miller on vocals, Jim Scholten on bass, Joe Smyth on drums, Bobby Randall on guitar and fiddle, and Gregg Hubbard on keyboards) delivered virtually everything their fans had shelled out $15 apiece to see: Plenty of hit singles, plenty of hard-drivin' dance music and plenty of rebellious spirit.
The whiskey-voiced Miller - the David Lee Roth of country music - is the key ingredient in the Sawyer Brown recipe. Sassy, flamboyant and naughty, Miller flies around the stage at 99 mph, knowing just what to say (and do) and just when to do it for maximum response, though it seemed every bump and grind was orchestrated.
Though not the band's preferred style, Sawyer Brown is at its musical best when it slows down the pace and Miller's tremendous voice takes over, like on "Gypsies on Parade," unquestionably the evening's best.
Still, most of the loyalists preferred barn-burnin' southern rockers like "Take It Easy" and "My Baby Drives a Buick" to the more mellow tunes. And Sawyer Brown has a reputation for giving their fans what they want to hear.
Opening for Sawyer Brown was Southern Pacific, one of the best of the new country bands reshaping the sound of country music. And with former members of the Doobie Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Pablo Cruise it's fairly obvious where their musical roots lie.
Southern Pacific is still relatively unknown (except in Utah where they have played five times in the last two and a half years). But as more songs like "New Shade of Blue" and "Midnight Highway" climb to the top of the country music charts, the more Southern Pacific will get the credit due them.
And they deserve it. Their almost-hour-long set, which drew from all three albums, was a splendid mix of rock 'n' roll, bluegrass and untraditional country. Unlike Sawyer Brown, whose songs are virtually interchangeable, Southern Pacific has variety.
And they can deliver the hard-drivin' sounds of "Reno Bound" and "Pink Cadillac" with the same excitement (as well as musical proficiency) as more mellow tunes like "A Girl Like Emmy Lou" and "Dream On."
Sawyer Brown fans will undoubtedly disagree, but the headliners were not the best band playing the Salt Palace Saturday night. Musically speaking, Sawyer Brown plays caboose to Southern Pacific.