It had been four years since country concert king Kenny Chesney had performed in the Twin Cities. In the music business, four years is a long time. You can launch a superstar career (Taylor Swift). Suffer in purgatory (Dixie Chicks). Or fade away (hello Faith, Shania and Garth).
Maybe four is a lucky number for Chesney. Friday night at the soldout Xcel Energy Center was the fourth concert on the Goin' Coastal Tour by the Country Music Association's four-time entertainer of the year. And he started in fourth gear the moment he hit the stage.
Chesney was all revved up. He was full throttle for -- you guessed it -- the first four songs, boot scootin' bouncing all over his cross-shaped runway like a hyperkinetic kid on the playground after being pent up in school all day. When he finally paused for a breath, the 15,927 fans greeted him with a thunderous ovation.
"From the sound of things, it sounds like it was four years too long," declared Chesney, already sweating like he was in mid-workout.
The Tennessee native is a jock in cowboy's clothing, an eternal frat boy in search of the next party, an escapist beach bum waiting for the next wave and Corona. But he can be as reflective and romantic as he is rowdy. However, downshifting wasn't easy for him on Friday.
Even when he essayed a ballad like "Woman with You," he couldn't stand still. He was slow dancing with his microphone stand. Vocally, he didn't ease into a true ballad singing style until "Anything But Mine," right before he began a brief acoustic set. Suddenly, Chesney transformed into a more serious and deeper-thinking balladeer on the Mexican-flavored "The Life" and the darker, un-Chesney-like "I'm Alive" (he co-wrote it with Dave Matthews), which he said he was performing live for the first time ever.
Another welcomed sonic change of pace was a more prominent number, Chesney's most recent -- and 20th -- No. 1 single, "Somewhere with You," with its taste of hip-hop cadence and U2-like atmospherics. It was a new side of the country superstar -- soulful without being overly sentimental.
But the chatty Chesney is never one to oversell to the women in his crowd. So he brought out opening act Uncle Kracker to help out on four fun tunes -- the happy-hour stroll "When the Sun Goes Down" and covers of "You Never Even Call Me By My Name" and a medley of Steve Miller's "The Joker" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds" (with Billy Currington, the other opener, joining in).
With his 43rd birthday fast approaching at midnight (Chesney had celebrated his big day onstage at Xcel in 2005), he indulged, with the help of a roadie on vocals, in a cover of Violent Femmes' alt-rock classic, "Blister in the Sun," a perfect coastal celebration for snowbound Minnesotans. The ensuing "With or Without You," the U2 classic, and the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" made it feel like the show was devolving into a bar-band performance.
Fans may more likely remember Chesney, who has always been more small-town than rural, offering a late-show one-two punch of his still corny barn anthem, "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," his 1990s signature, and "The Boys of Fall," his 2010 nostalgic ode to high school football that has become his career-defining piece.
For a set list, go to ww.startribune.come/artcetera Jon Bream • 612-673-1719 Twitter: @jonbream