Country music roadshows tend to come in two types -- exceptional and mediocre -- and with the current diversification of the genre, most of them fall into the latter category. Fortunately, those attending the first of the two-night Baltimore Arena residency for Brooks & Dunn and Reba McEntire were greeted with an in-the-round performance that transcended excellence.
"Are we doin' OK so far?" McEntire asked the sold-out crowd, and the audience, already drained from the rambunctious antics of opening act Brooks & Dunn, managed to muster a "yeah" rousing enough to be heard back in Nashville. Brooks & Dunn's hour-and-a-half opening set, launched by a rollicking cover version of "Travelin' Band" with Reba herself helping out on vocals, went from sweat-drenched to sentimental and touched on nearly every musical style in between.
From the upbeat honky-tonk of "Bootscootin' Boogie" to the soft, steel-guitar strains of "Miss Me When I'm Gone" and right on through the faithful remake of "My Maria," Music City's version of the Dynamic Duo provided the perfect introduction for McEntire's set of shimmering musical jewels.
Before the dust settled, McEntire stood center-stage and proceeded to jerk every emotion possible from an audience whose adoration visibly humbled the reigning country music queen. With a voice as bright and sparkling as her eyes, McEntire launched into her portion of the set with the bluesy "Why Haven't I Heard From You," and for the next 90 minutes, she revisited nearly every phase of her 21-year career. In all, it was an affirmation of country music as a genre where lyrics and feelings still matter.
Among the highlights were joyful renditions of "I'd Rather Ride Around With You" and "Take It Back"; the tear-jerking "The World Didn't Stop For My Broken Heart"; and a duet with backup vocalist Linda Davis on "Does He Love You" that nearly brought down the house. With each note, McEntire proved why people will always talk about her live shows in such reverent tones.
McEntire's most endearing trait is her ability to step outside of country formula. She's equally at home within the pop framework of a song like "The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia" as she is in the acoustic surroundings of "How Blue."
With country roots that run just as deep in such rock-like arrangements as "Fancy" as they do in such broken-heart laments as "You Lie," Reba McEntire's Baltimore performance exuded every ounce of the warmth and charm that made her a star to begin with. Come to think of it, she couldn't shine much brighter.
Who: Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn
Where: Baltimore Arena
When: Tonight at 8
Tickets: Sold out
Call: 410-347-2010 for information
Pub Date: 4/12/97