Walter Tunis: Rascal Flatts makes its biennial visit to Rupp Arena

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 7, 2013 

Rascal Flatts

Rascal Flatts — Jay Demarcus, left, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney — has been country music's top-grossing vocal group for the past decade.

MARK HUMPHREY — ASSOCIATED PRESS

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Carrie Rodriguez at Natasha's: How do you upstage a blizzard, or at least the closest weather event Lexington can muster that could approximate a blizzard? Well, in the case of a wintry evening last week, you started by showcasing a Texas song stylist and instrumentalist whom Lexington audiences have watched grow from an accomplished though somewhat wallflower-ish accompanist into the kind of bright and commanding headliner whose songs are perhaps best suited to the faux-spring weather Lexington enjoyed a few days earlier.

    In fact, just as the snow gusts started to pick up outside Natasha's, singer/violinist/guitarist Carrie Rodriguez was inside reflecting on a 2002 show she gave with New York songsmith Chip Taylor at the long- defunct High on Rose. Exactly how much difference does a decade make? Well, for starters the years have empowered Rodriguez with a potent vocal wail and an expert sense of phrasing. Both were in abundance during the slyly lyrical 50s French Movie, the more elemental but no less elegant I Cry for Love and a thoroughly arresting cover of the Merle Haggard staple I Started Loving You Again, where her singing grew from hushed reflection to a serious country wail.

    Then there were the tunes that shifted from the vividly original (the finger-popping love song Lake Harriett and the touching, affirmative eulogy Seven Angels on a Bicycle) to the cleverly appropriated (the set-closing I Don't Mind Waiting, which sounded like a prairie version of Bob Dylan's I'll Be Your Baby Tonight).

    Finally there was the obvious instrumental maturity. Rodriguez has never been shy about displaying her classical chops in performance. But the musical interplay she developed with the splendid acoustic/electric/lap steel guitarist Luke Jacobs also brought out instrumentation that incorporated pre-bluegrass country (I Don't Want to Play House Anymore), Celtic mischief (Waterbound) and swampy ambience (the show-opening Devil in Mind).

    All of these elements beautifully collided in the encore version of La Punalada Trapera, a stunning piece of ranchera balladry draped in light guitar and violin orchestration and sung by Rodriguez with almost operatic expression and depth.

    "The title, roughly translated, means The Treacherous Backstab," Rodriguez said. "Just a little love song to send you home with."

Rascal Flatts, The Band Perry, Kristen Kelly

7:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St. $25-$54.75; call (859) 233-3535 or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or go to Ticketmaster.com.

The country farewell "Y'all come back" might be perceived as something of a tired cultural stereotype. But there is often earnestness in those words. The intent is simple and neighborly: "We enjoy your company. Please pay us another visit."

Such a courtesy has obviously been extended to the three country acts set to perform at Rupp Arena on Friday.

Headliner Rascal Flatts, for example, has been playing Rupp every other year for the past decade. True to form, its last show at the venue was Jan. 25, 2011 — almost exactly two years ago. That's a good trick, as the trio of Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney also play nearly every year in Louisville and Cincinnati.

Such frequency underscores the irony in the title of Rascal Flatts' latest album, Changed. Truth to tell, nothing has changed with the group — not its music (a sleek and radio-friendly brand of pop-inclined country) and certainly not its popularity (having sold in excess of 21 million albums, the trio ranks as the top-grossing country vocal troupe of the past decade).

Friday's two show openers also are becoming frequent flyers in terms of local appearances. The Band Perry played Rupp in March as a warm-up for Brad Paisley. The word on the family trio of Kimberly, Neil and Reid Perry at the time was that this probably would be the one and only time it would play here as an opening act, especially given the then-regular radio rotation of the hit singles You Lie, All Your Life and Postcard From Paris.

Don't get the idea, though, that The Band Perry's pre-show repeat at Rupp signals a career slowdown. In fact, the trio might well make a considerable leap with the April 2 release of its as-yet-untitled second album. The recording's initial single, Better Dig Two, became The Band Perry's latest chart-topping country hit.

That leaves us with Kristen Kelly of Ex-Old Man fame. She knows Lexington, too. The Texas-born singer was part of the Red, White and Boom bill that played Whitaker Bank Ball Park in July.

Country fans probably will flock to this show, but they shouldn't worry if they miss Rascal Flatts and friends this time. Chances are they'll be back.

Sing it, John

Talk about your regulars. John Cowan has been performing in Lexington venues of all sizes for close to 40 years, from the earliest days of the ground-breaking New Grass Revival to the Americana-and-more-bands he leads today under his own name. Friday marks the return of the latter to Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade. The John Cowan Band plays to both the bluegrass traditions and soul-music preferences that Cowan's remarkable high tenor has long embraced. New Town opens. (8 p.m. $17. (859) 259-2754 for reservations. Beetnik.com.)

Heavy Valentine's

■ Get a jump on Valentine's Day with an evening of thundering metal and punk by Hatebreed. The veteran Connecticut rockers top a four-band bill Friday at Buster's Billiards & Ballroom, 899 Manchester Street. (6:30 p.m. $22. (859) 368-8871. Bustersbb.com.) The Hatebreed members also will be on hand before the show for a meet-and-greet at CD Central, 377 South Limestone. (6 p.m. (859) 233-3472. CDcentralmusic.com.)

■ What better way to spend Valentine's Day itself than with the return of The Mike Dillon Band to Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue. Based in New Orleans, percussionist/ vibraphonist Dillon is another Lexington regular who offers fun jazz rampages that blend Crescent City grooves with punkish immediacy. This time, he has a debut album, Urn, with his current band to showcase. (10 p.m. $10. (859) 309-9499. Cosmic-charlies.com.)


THE WEEK THAT WAS

Carrie Rodriguez at Natasha's: How do you upstage a blizzard, or at least the closest weather event Lexington can muster that could approximate a blizzard? Well, in the case of a wintry evening last week, you started by showcasing a Texas song stylist and instrumentalist whom Lexington audiences have watched grow from an accomplished though somewhat wallflower-ish accompanist into the kind of bright and commanding headliner whose songs are perhaps best suited to the faux-spring weather Lexington enjoyed a few days earlier.

In fact, just as the snow gusts started to pick up outside Natasha's, singer/violinist/guitarist Carrie Rodriguez was inside reflecting on a 2002 show she gave with New York songsmith Chip Taylor at the long- defunct High on Rose. Exactly how much difference does a decade make? Well, for starters the years have empowered Rodriguez with a potent vocal wail and an expert sense of phrasing. Both were in abundance during the slyly lyrical 50s French Movie, the more elemental but no less elegant I Cry for Love and a thoroughly arresting cover of the Merle Haggard staple I Started Loving You Again, where her singing grew from hushed reflection to a serious country wail.

Then there were the tunes that shifted from the vividly original (the finger-popping love song Lake Harriett and the touching, affirmative eulogy Seven Angels on a Bicycle) to the cleverly appropriated (the set-closing I Don't Mind Waiting, which sounded like a prairie version of Bob Dylan's I'll Be Your Baby Tonight).

Finally there was the obvious instrumental maturity. Rodriguez has never been shy about displaying her classical chops in performance. But the musical interplay she developed with the splendid acoustic/electric/lap steel guitarist Luke Jacobs also brought out instrumentation that incorporated pre-bluegrass country (I Don't Want to Play House Anymore), Celtic mischief (Waterbound) and swampy ambience (the show-opening Devil in Mind).

All of these elements beautifully collided in the encore version of La Punalada Trapera, a stunning piece of ranchera balladry draped in light guitar and violin orchestration and sung by Rodriguez with almost operatic expression and depth.

"The title, roughly translated, means The Treacherous Backstab," Rodriguez said. "Just a little love song to send you home with."

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