In the case of the Sept. 4 Big & Rich show at the Grandstand, by the time beefy rapper Cowboy Troy
appeared, you would have already seen a painfully raw opening act, a
diminutive disabled guy in a tiny car stretching the bounds of good
taste to the limit, a shameless newlywed couple groping each other
onstage and a relentless and gratuitous lesson in how to fit the
requirements for being a good American set by one of the headliners.
Two ‘fer: (top to bottom) Big Kenny Alphin, their band and John Rich (in the ten-gallon hat) morphed genres during their grandstand gig.
All this was incorporated into an
evening that featured precious few musical highlights before a crowd
that was light, even though promoters bought so many television and
radio ads that they were starting to rival the Used Car King. There
also seemed to be a disproportionate number of drunk fans on hand.
Maybe they had the right idea.
After a recorded voice started this circus rolling with the frightening announcement that “The future of country music is now,” a guy called Two-Foot Fred came on dressed like the world’s smallest pimp. More outlandish costumes followed with John Rich appearing in a full-length fur coat, while his partner’s outfit could best be described as groovy—there’s no other word for it.
When the back of Big Kenny Alphin’s
guitar flashed the neon slogan, “Love Everybody,” it quickly became
apparent that he was born a couple of decades too late. The love child
image seemed to fit Alphin, too, as the songs he sang under the full
moon that night and his stage persona as the smiling, Frisbee-flinging,
top-hat wearing good cop countering Rich’s angry poster boy for
intolerance and narrow-mindedness.
While his recent solo hit, “Shuttin’
Detroit Down,” brings to mind the theme, although not the quality, of
Merle Haggard’s classic, “Big City,” it’s not quite clear what point
he’s trying to make. One thing that is clear is that there’s no room
for dissent in Rich’s America. If you don’t agree with his vision of
our country, you can do as he suggests on his flag-printed T-shirt and
get the hell out. He also thought it necessary to wonder, “Why in hell
do I have to press one for English.” Boy, is he one gringo who’s going
to hate the results of the 2010 census!
When all else failed to excite the
audience, Rich waved the flag (OK, the flag shirt), ranted about how
this is the greatest country in the world and gushed about Syracuse
being the “real New York with awesome hard-working boys and girls.” He
may as well have just flashed the applause sign.
Both these guys had a good moment or two
singing when they put the sideshow on hold and focused on music. Alphin
was touching, evoking the hippie generation on “Love Train,” while Rich
stayed in the same era paying tribute to Vietnam vets with the powerful
“8th of November.” Like the visions they present, their singing voices
seem an odd combination as they don’t blend smoothly and their
harmonies don’t really work.
Opening act Candy Coburn worked
really hard, but she couldn’t inspire this dead crowd. Her set was too
long, and her tough, biker-chick image wore thin really fast. She is
too much a screamer, offering no clue why a record label would sign
such a forgettable singer in today’s competitive market. Her lime-green
Budweiser guitar took sponsorship to a new low and she repeatedly
thanked the local country station, apparently thinking that it actually
plays her music.
It was laughable that Coburn paid
tribute to her “all-time favorite singer,” Janis Joplin, with a cover
of “Me And Bobby McGee,” failing to mention the Country Hall of Fame
member who wrote that song. But this really wasn’t a night for country
The afternoon set at Chevrolet Court wasn’t any better as young Eric Church
played every card a redneck boy carries, but proved himself no more
than a rock’n’roller with a drawl. The scruffy-looking kid from North
Carolina’s Granite Falls sang about Jesus, Mama’s apple pie, Red Man,
fishin’, his truck, drinking beer, NASCAR, the flag, his boots (several
times) and just about every other stereotype you can name.
His band was loud, raucous and messy and his words were
too often lost behind the distorted bass. No matter, as the songs were
pretty much all the same anyway. Ironically, his biggest hit to date,
“Love Your Love,” is a more standard, mid-tempo country song and one of
the afternoon’s highlights. Make that the afternoon’s lone highlight.