RASCAL FLATTS AND KELLIE PICKLER, EnergySolutions Arena, Friday
Whether Rascal Flatts' music qualifies as true country is debatable. Their rabid legion of fans will likely disagree, but if the band is anything, it's a pop band in country clothing.
What no one can deny about the trio from Columbus, Ohio, is that whatever category their music falls in, these guys are about as big in the music world today as one can get.
The band was back in Salt Lake City Friday night for its Still Feels Good Tour 2008. Opening with the up-tempo "Me and My Gang" followed by "Fast Cars and Freedom," Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus, Joe Don Rooney and their five-piece backing band played for two hours before a packed blue jean-wearing crowd.
"I love coming to Salt Lake City because I don't care what time of season it is, all the girls wear little things," said DeMarcus.
The massive stage setup was as big as any that has ever come through the EnergySolutions Arena. The large main stage had lights in just about every possible location flanked by a large digital screen in the rear. At the opposite end of the arena floor was a smaller, round stage. Above both stages was a bridge that lowered from the ceiling to occasionally connect the two.
Rascal Flatts fans got exactly what they paid to see. Although many of their songs are slow to mid-tempo numbers about love and relationships, they're also the biggest hits. The audience sang along to favorites such as "My Wish," "These Days," "Stand," "Feels Like Today" and "What Hurts the Most."
The most upbeat, truly country portion of the night (and one of the best songs of the evening) was "Backwards." LeVox even donned a cowboy hat for the song and had a quick jab for critics who say the band isn't really country.
The Flatts have also developed a tradition over the years of playing cover songs during their concert, and Friday was no exception. This time, the trio hit on everything from DeMarcus doing James Brown's "I Feel Good" to LeVox sampling Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" and the end of "He Ain't the Leavin' Kind" to Rooney ripping through parts of the Guess Who's "American Woman," AC/DC's "Back in Black," Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and even "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The incredible fiddle solo two-thirds of the way through the set even did a great cover of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir."
The trio tried to strip the show back from the huge stage production with some older songs on the center-court stage, including "You" and "Yes I Do."
Props also should be given to Jim the drummer, a Salt Lake native who provided great backing vocals and stellar drumming.
For the encore, the group returned to the mammoth stage, seemingly turning on every light and smoke machine it had for "Still Feels Good" and Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway."
Former American Idol Kellie Pickler opened the show. Although she wore her red high heels to the stage, she took them off after the second song and went barefoot the rest of the way. She told the crowd she had hit her head before the show and was "feeling a little dizzy."
"I promise I haven't been drinking," she said.Although fans appreciated her song "Red High Heels" and a cover of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5," Pickler didn't seem connected with the audience, as she had problems with her ear monitor. She finally took it out for the last two-thirds of her set. And she was constantly tugging at her skin-tight tube top, making sure there were no wardrobe malfunctions.