Brooks & Dunn’s Neon Circus Rides Again

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Can it really be 12 years since “Brand New Man” and “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” stormed the charts? Yeah, it’s true. But what’s really amazing is that Brooks & Dunn still nail those songs in concert, as proven by the opening date of the Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour in Green Bay, Wis., on Friday (April 25). Between Kix Brooks’ guitar-pounding and Ronnie Dunn’s fluid vocals, the hard-working men prove they will not go quietly.

With only one new song in the mix — their latest single “Red Dirt Road” — Brooks & Dunn dug into their vast catalog of hits, from “Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You” to “Rock My World (Little Country Girl).” There are a few holdovers from past tours, such as the tip of the hat to Dale Earnhardt on “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and Dunn tossing out dozens of drumsticks into the audience. But, alas, the gigantic inflatable boots are gone. (Sigh.)

Of course, there are the things you see at every country tour, no matter who it is: Teenagers singing along to every song, drunk women stumbling across the row to get more beer, well-intentioned men holding cell phones in the air. Of course, it’s not every concert where the entertainer — in this case, Brooks — stops the show after the fifth song to take the cell phone and chat with the person on the other line. Even better, he kept the phone on stage all night, as hundreds of ‘Power Off’ buttons were pressed. With a set list as incredibly hit-packed as theirs, it’s worth giving the guys undivided attention. And without giving anything away, the “Only in America” finale is worth sticking around for.

No matter what you think of Rascal Flatts ’ pop-influenced music, there’s no denying that Gary LeVox possesses a commanding voice made for arenas and that guitarist Joe Don Rooney and bassist Jay DeMarcus stand out as more than mere sidemen. In addition to their radio hits, the band has also kept “See Me Through” in their set list, a highlight from their first album.

There’s no forgetting exactly where you are when Rascal Flatts is on stage. Over the course of 10 songs, they mentioned Wisconsin at least 15 times. (Yet I find it unlikely that a girl would run off to Green Bay to marry a rodeo cowboy, as the lyrics of “These Days” were amended.) And they may have outsold everybody in merchandise, judging by the number of happy people in sky-blue tour T-shirts wandering around the venue.

Brad Paisley offered material from his upcoming Mud on the Tires album, due July 22. That means he’s already leaving off a few hits, namely “Who Needs Pictures” and “Two People Fell in Love.” Luckily, the new stuff is good too. The acoustic “Little Moments Like That” recounts the cute developments that solidify a relationship, and “Celebrity” jabs the current fascination with reality TV. He even brought a guitar-slinging contest winner to the stage for her three-and-a-half minutes of fame. But these four little words brought the crowd to a frenzy: “Well, I love her ….” Of course, that’s “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song),” which has become his signature hit.

Two brand new acts, which happen to be on the same label group as Paisley and Brooks & Dunn, were well-received by the crowd. Jeff Bates’ “The Love Song” and Aaron Lines ’ “You Can’t Hide Beautiful” brought a level of recognition from the crowd, although they both finished their sets within 45 minutes of show time.

The tour’s host, Cledus T. Judd , joked that by August, Lines will be wearing a bandana, drinking Jim Beam from the bottle, singing all Hank Jr. cover songs and accompanying him to rehab. Unlikely, but he was surprisingly loose for a newcomer. A female artist along the lines of Wynonna or LeAnn Rimes would have been a welcome change of pace, but all in all, the lineup is unquestionably audience-friendly.

Those fans arriving early were treated to a circus outside, complete with a bluegrass band, a comedy hypnotist, a “bizarre” magic show, a strongman, a physical comedian and a Wild West cowboy. But if we are to believe Mama, who don’t get dressed up for nothin’, it’s what’s inside that counts.

SET LIST:

Brooks & Dunn
“Ain’t Nothing ‘Bout You”
“Brand New Man”
“My Heart Belongs to You”
“That Ain’t No Way to Go”
“Mama Don’t Get Dressed Up for Nothin’”
“How Long Gone”
“You’re Gonna Miss Me”
“Hard Workin’ Man”
“The Long Goodbye”
“Neon Moon”
“Red Dirt Road”
“My Maria”
“Boot Scootin’ Boogie”
“Rock My World (Little Country Girl)”
“Only in America”

Cledus T. Judd
“My Crowd”

Rascal Flatts
“Too Good Is True”
“This Everyday Love”
“I Melt”
“Love You Out Loud”
“Mayberry”
“While You Loved Me”
“Praying for Daylight”
“I’m Movin’ On”
“See Me Through”
“These Days”

Brad Paisley
“Mud on the Tires”
“Wrapped Around”
“Two Feet of Topsoil”
“We Danced”

“Me Neither”
“He Didn’t Have to Be”
“Sharp Dressed Man”
“Little Moments Like That”
“Celebrity”
“I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)”

Cledus T. Judd
“270-Somethin’”

Aaron Lines
“Living Out Loud”
“Knock on Wood”
“You Can’t Hide Beautiful”
“Turn It Up”
“Love Changes Everything”

Jeff Bates
“Country Enough”
“My Inlaws Are Outlaws”
“Lovin’ Like That”
“Rainbow Man”
“The Love Song”