On the first night of his 2004 tour, Kenny Chesney set a record at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo by selling out the enormous Reliant Stadium with a paid attendance of 70,668 people. The somewhat brief concert on Wednesday (March 17) officially kicked off his Guitars, Tiki Bars & a Whole Lotta Love tour, though he withheld about half of the set list and, presumably, most of his new special effects.
That’s because he performed immediately after an actual rodeo — RodeoHouston — complete with bull riders, calf ropers, trick riders and a video salute to NASA’s accomplishments. Once all the cowboys had moseyed on, a small, gray, circular stage was dragged into the middle of the dirt floor. It looked almost like a prom backdrop, with several pillars poking out of a curved base and colorful mood lighting everywhere.
And for most of those seated near me, prom night probably isn’t a distant memory. To Chesney’s credit, both the men and the women seemed equally enthusiastic, and the shrieking was contained mostly to his occasional shirtless shots in the video footage running on the six Jumbotron screens above the stage. In person, he wore a green sleeveless shirt, a nod to St. Patrick’s Day.
In approximately one hour, Chesney managed a strong mix of new material, signature hits and even a few cool tunes that didn’t get played a zillion times on the radio, such as “What I Need to Do” and “Back Where I Come From.” His latest album is barely a month old, but he wisely avoided the “here’s my fourth song in a row you’ve never heard of” and “please buy my new record” routine. Instead, he augmented most of his hits with familiar music video footage, as well as some cute homemade outtakes from his time in the islands.
Speaking of islands, Chesney and his able band appeared to be stranded in a sea of dirt at Reliant Stadium, almost like a typical stadium concert but with no floor seats. The nearest fan was perhaps 50 yards away — an impossible distance for slapping hands with fans or catching a wayward bra. A combination of that empty space and maybe a little bit of rust from Chesney taking several months off, gave the show a slightly slow start. But after 14 songs, countless big grins and a visible amount of focus, Chesney proved himself worthy of the huge crowd. Once, when the house lights came up on four stadium levels of fans, he lost his train of thought. “Wow, look at y’all,” he said. “That’s cool.” After his 13-song set, amid booming fireworks, he waved to the crowd from the back of a big red truck as it carried him away.
The full force of Chesney’s tour begins Thursday night (March 18) in Lafayette, La., the first stop with opening acts Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley.
“Live Those Songs”
“No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems”
“I Go Back”
“What I Need to Do”
“Back Where I Come From”
“The Good Stuff”
“Don’t Happen Twice”
“How Forever Feels”
“There Goes My Life”
“When the Sun Goes Down”
“She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”