Editor’s note: Rascal Flatts appeared Saturday (Sept. 29) at clubs in Chicago and Atlanta to close a six-day promotional tour that included events sponsored by country radio stations.
CHICAGO — Take away the ostentatious stage, the endless catwalks, the pyrotechnics, the video screens and the full backing band, and you have Rascal Flatts’ Saturday night (Sept. 29) show at Joe’s Bar in Chicago. And even with all that missing, their shows still feel good.
Plenty of bands such as Rascal Flatts started out in bars like this. Joe’s is a sports bar-turned-honky-tonk on the city’s north side, and it embraces up-and-comers just as warmly as it does platinum hitmakers. And Rascal Flatts seemed genuinely at home in the rough-around-the-edges back room reserved for live music.
The trio — Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney — had been down this road before. This show was one of several acoustic performances across the country to push their new CD, Still Feels Good. Other appearances were made in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Dallas, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. The minimalist approach shows fans that, yes, these guys sound just as good when they’re left alone with their voices and a couple of guitars.
With just three stools and three microphones, they took to the simple stage and started with an old favorite, “Fast Cars and Freedom,” and from there eased into their newest No. 1, “Take Me There.” “Still Feels Good is out, and it really does still feel good to us,” said DeMarcus. “Even after seven years.”
One side effect of a mellow acoustic show is a more subdued audience. Or it could’ve been that the fans at this 21-and-over spot skewed older than Rascal Flatts’ core audience of screaming teens. But that also meant this crowd was a drinking crowd. DeMarcus noticed, and said, “When you’re drinking five gallon buckets, you know you’re in the right place.”
He’s apparently taken a page out of Brad Paisley’s book on how to win fans and influence crowds with humor. While folks seem to hang on every word LeVox sings, it’s DeMarcus who has become the voice of the band. He had everyone in the place laughing, especially during a dead-on Kenny Chesney imitation and when he introduced “Bless the Broken Road” as the song that resulted in Carrie Underwood win on American Idol.
Then there was his good-natured obsession with the 1981 Grammy-winning “Jessie’s Girl.” No, it’s not a country song you missed. It was a pop tune from Rick Springfield, also know as Dr. Noah Drake to all the General Hospital fans out there. While it started off as a cheesy guitar joke, the band went on to play the song in all its retro entirety. For the rest of the set, DeMarcus started every song with the first few notes from “Jessie’s Girl.”
The crowd was small, made up of about 800 fans who won tickets through Chicago radio station WUSN’s on-air giveaways and text message promotions. Some Q&A throughout the night punctuated the songs with some getting-to-know-you banter. WUSN personalities Lisa Dent and Ray Stevens did the asking, and here were some of the answers the guys gave:
•What does DeMarcus TiVo when he’s off the road?
Heroes and CSI
•What was the last thing LeVox paid $5000 for?
His bar tab in Atlanta
•Who’s the sensitive one?
Rooney said he is, because he’s the youngest and gets picked on the most.
And when Dent asked them how they were able to put together this new album in three months, DeMarcus talked about how devoted they all were to crafting this project. “We just reminded everybody who works for us that, well, they work for us,” he joked.
That album is expected to debut at No. 1 in its first week out, and DeMarcus made a point of telling everyone at Joe’s Bar the story behind the songs. They wrapped the show with “Life Is a Highway,” Rascal Flatts’ remake that became even more popular than the original Tom Cochrane hit from the early ’90s.
They didn’t play long — just over an hour, in fact. But it was an intimate antidote to the hard-partying arena shows that Rascal Flatts have grown into. With no obstacles to sabotage the purity of the music, the fans seemed to revel in this stripped-down show.
Rascal Flatts will return to the road when their official Still Feels Good tour resumes in Chicago on Oct. 12 at the much, much bigger Allstate Arena.