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Little Big Town could be the next big group in country music.
The male/female vocal quartet has the hits, the harmonies and the image. But what was missing Saturday night in Little Big Town's first headline show in the Twin Cities was consistent star power. The show at sold-out Mystic Lake Casino was crowd-pleasingly good but didn't live up to Little Big Town's potential.
For a group to blossom in Nashville, it needs a focal point. Randy Owen dominated Alabama, Gary LeVox is the main man with Rascal Flatts and Natalie Maines is the mouthpiece of the Dixie Chicks. But who is the mayor of Little Big Town?
Karen Fairchild talked the most on Saturday, but she didn't sparkle when she took vocal leads. Kimberly Schlapman strutted in her stiletto heels with her blond Sarah Jessica Parker mane, but she said precious little and sang lead on only one number. Handsome Phillip Sweet, a strong, silent type, did some nice Don Henley-like vocal turns, and Jimi Westbrook, he with the high Glenn Frey-like voice, occasionally commanded the spotlight and cut loose near the end of the 85-minute set.
Multiple lead singers may work for the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac, two groups that have obviously influenced Little Big Town. But those groups are the exceptions. Be a democracy offstage, but choose one dominant star for the stage. It has worked for such duos as Sugarland and Brooks & Dunn as well as the aforementioned Alabama, Dixie Chicks and Rascal Flatts.
Westbrook is the obvious choice to be the big man in Little Big Town. He proved that whenever he sang lead on Saturday. He poured emotion into "Those Memories," pleading like Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham. His high voice found new heights on "Lost." He was the one who interjected "Twin Cities" in a litany of locations during "I'm With the Band." He was the one who proudly declared his small-town roots in "Boondocks." And he was the one who let his hair down (however short it is) on the Eagles' "Heartache Tonight," even swooning with his wife, Fairchild, for a line or two. (More of that kind of chemistry would add fireworks to the performance.)
Of course, Little Big Town's inventive harmonies and tag-team lead vocals carried several other selections, including the gorgeous encore "Life in a Northern Town" and the bluesy medley of "Bones" and Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain," which sounded better vocally than Fleetwood Mac's own rendition a few weeks ago in St. Paul.
The Zac Brown Band, which opened the evening, went over big-time, thanks to the lumberjack-like frontman's robust voice and Kenny Chesney-meets-Alabama sensibilities. This sextet may be the only hit-making country band that busts into a Bob Marley tune in mid-song.
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719