Rascal Flatts shows how to please

  • Article by: JON BREAM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 31, 2012 - 12:18 AM

REVIEW: From fist bumps to harmonies, the hitmakers connected with a sell-out crowd at State Fair grandstand.

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Back-to-back sell-out concerts at the State Fair grandstand are uncommon. And even though they both played under a full moon, those shows -- Kiss/Motley Crue on Wednesday and Rascal Flatts on Thursday -- had about as much in common as a beergarita and all the milk you can drink.

Rascal Flatts managed to present three opening acts and their own 80-minute performance and finish well before the 11 p.m. curfew.

Country music's best-selling trio of all time brought lots of harmonies, a little humor and imaginative video (on a five-part backdrop screen and five suspended cubes). They came across as committed, fun-loving, crowd-pleasing entertainers. Frontman Gary LeVox worked the stage like a political candidate making his way through the fairgrounds. He shook countless hands, made eye contact with numerous fans and dropped "Minnesota" or "St. Paul" into his conversation and his lyrics.

His best move of the night came when he pulled two kids, who looked to be 6 and 4, onstage during "Life Is a Highway." He held their hands and walked them around the runway that extended from the stage. As he was singing, he marveled at the girl's colorful "fair hair" and bumped fists with the little boy and had them sing on the chorus. "Thank you, Carrie Underwood," he said to the little blonde girl. And all 13,144 concertgoers responded with giant smiles.

"Life Is a Highway" -- an old classic rock song by Tom Cochrane that Rascal Flatts covered for the Disney-Pixar movie "Cars" -- had more oomph than the trio's own tunes, which frankly sound like lightweight pop with simpleton lyrics about emotions.

Granted, women swoon for these songs and LeVox's high, reedy, nasally voice, which makes him sound like country's answer to Journey's Steve Perry. A few new numbers, including "Hot in Here" with a dance beat and the electrifying "Banjo," added much-needed different textures. But Rascal Flatts' material and vocal approach wasn't as impressive as that of opening act Little Big Town.

Stellar harmonies, strong melodies, confident stage presence and a batch of top-notch new tunes suggested that Little Big Town is going to make it big after the release next month of their "Tornado" album. Karen Fairchild stepped out on the title tune, the nastiest kiss-off song that Underwood wished she'd recorded. Other stand-outs were "Your Side of the Bed," a we're-not-getting-along duet, and the current hit "Pontoon," arguably the best country beach/boat song ever. To top it off, this vocal quartet did a bluegrassy sendup of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." Yee-haw!

Set lists: www.startribune.com/artcetera Twitter: @jonbream • 612-673-1719

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