The bass player rarely steals the show, but Saturday night at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, that's exactly what Jay DeMarcus did.
DeMarcus is one third of Rascal Flatts, and he usually takes a backseat to lead singer Gary LeVox and guitarist Joe Don Rooney. This time, though, it was his show. And he proved he has a lot more in him that just bass, including a turn on drums during a cover of "Hotel California," acoustic guitar on "Sweet Home Alabama" and piano on the groups's own Grammy-nominated hit "Bless the Broken Road." And in between songs, he kept the audience laughing with jokes about friends text-messaging one another when they bought tickets to the concert.
If they bought them through band's the official fan club, they were in for a nice surprise. At stage front there was a standing-room pit exclusively for some 100 lucky fans. But with two catwalks extending off the stage, the view wasn't bad for the rest of the crowd either -- a crowd that LeVox claimed beat Kenny Chesney's record for the biggest country concert at the Tinley Park venue, formerly the Tweeter Center.
While DeMarcus thrived during his turn in the spotlight, LeVox seemed to have some sound troubles. At times, his voice was almost imperceptible and his harmonies were washed out. And most of his we-love-you-Chicago banter was lost on the crowd. But when all his equipment was working, he sounded just like chart-topping frontman he is.
LeVox took over lead vocals on most of Rascal Flatts' own hits, such as "I Melt," "Mayberry," "Movin' On," and their current single "What Hurts the Most." And he did his share of interacting with the crowd, talking about Portillo's hot dogs and the White Sox. After about 16 songs, the band left the stage, then returned for one more classic Rascal Flatts song ("These Days") and one more cover song (AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long.")
Even though Rascal Flatts has all the makings of a country band, with fiddle, banjo, steel guitar and flawless harmonies, the band never really sounds all that country. And maybe that's a step in the right direction. Progress, even. Its current album "Me and My Gang" debuted at No. 1 on both the country and pop charts. So however they're singing, it's working.
And for the real country fans there, opening act Gary Allan was enough to satisfy their need for rich songwriting, a gritty sound and a modest demeanor. He charmed the audience not with witty chitchat, but with his hypnotic vocals on hits such as "Tough All Over" "Songs About Rain," and "Life Ain't Always Beautiful." Allan has criticized today's country music for being made for soccer moms. His 10-song set cleared up any discrepancies between that, and the truer country music he makes.
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