Fans cheer as Brooks, Dunn stick to their script

by Alison Bonaguro
Special to The Chicago Tribune , August 14. 2006


Textbook country. That's what Brooks & Dunn are all about.

So on Saturday night, when they stopped at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, they didn't try to be rock stars. They just did what country legends are supposed to do: played 18 songs, in ripped jeans and rhinestone-covered shirts, signed autographs, and left.

That said, Ronnie Dunn's voice smashed through all that predictability with a cocktail of force and fury. Before the show, Dunn told the Tribune, "We may be a little rusty tonight." His modesty only added to the aw-shucks charm that makes him the benchmark of country stardom.

Only a few of the songs in their 80-minute set were from their new "Hillbilly Deluxe" album. Instead, they stuck with the rowdier hits that the fans could sing along with, such as "Red Dirt Road," "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Outta the Girl," "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You," and "Neon Moon." When the audience didn't sing loudly enough, Dunn teased, saying, "Somebody's been drinking."

But even the newest single, "Building Bridges," the duo's signature take on singer/songwriter Larry Willoughby's hit, had fans on their feet with their hands in the air. The radio version features harmonies from crossover-diva Sheryl Crow and country traditionalist Vince Gill.

The Brooks & Dunn didn't stray too far from their tried-and-true live show. With 10 of Nashville's strongest players behind them, Dunn and Kix Brooks took turns on lead vocals, with Dunn singing the hits from their 15 years in the business and Brooks singing the lesser- known songs off their 12 albums. When Dunn wasn't singing, he was playing cowbell. And when Brooks wasn't singing, he was playing harmonica, mandolin and electric guitar. He also took the time to pull a little girl up on stage to dance with him during "Boot Scootin' Boogie," and to fire T-shirts out to the audience via a hand-held cannon.

The final song of the night was from 2001 that's just been rediscovered now that it's featured in the opening scene of the film "World Trade Center." Brooks & Dunn sang "Only in America" while three saluting Marines joined them onstage and red, white and blue confetti showered the venue.

Earlier in the night, Sugarland took the stage for a 45-minute set, starting with Tom Petty's "American Girl" before getting into their own uber-twangy pop anthems such as the current single "Down in Mississippi (And Up to No Good)."