LIVE: Kenny Chesney @ the Times Union Center, 3/21/13

Review by Greg Haymes

Over the years, Kenny Chesney has carved out a unique niche for himself as country music’s King of Fun in the Sun. Call him Nashville’s answer to Jimmy Buffett. And in concert on Thursday evening in front of a nearly sold-out crowd, he transformed the Times Union Center into his own wild ‘n’ woolly spring break.

Dressed in tight, perfectly frayed ‘n’ faded blue jeans, cowboy boots, a black T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off and a straw cowboy hat pulled down low, Chesney was a partymeister supreme, as he led his seven-piece band through a generous show that extolled the joys of tequila and tan lines. Sand, sunglasses and summertime. Beaches, bikinis and beer. Lots of beer …

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The early back-to-back pairing of “Beer in Mexico” and “Keg in the Closet” was only the tip of the alcohol-heavy set list, and judging by the often overly tipsy fans who whooped and hollered their approval throughout the night, the concession stands must have done quite a bang-up business.

Oh yeah, there was plenty of revelry going on in the arena throughout his two-dozen-plus-song performance, and Chesney was a kinetic ringmaster, leading the way with Buffett-like beach party anthems like “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” (complete with some faux steel-drum effects), the rambunctious “Livin’ in Fast Forward” and the reggae-ish, rum-soaked “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.”

The audience didn’t need encouragement to join in the festivities, eagerly singing along with such crowd favorites as “Young,” “Anything But Mine” and the rousing “Out Last Night.” But Chesney never let the party-hearty crowd get out of control. He knew how to pace his two-hour show, deftly dropping the tempo for a piano ballad (“There Goes My Life”) or a solo turn on acoustic guitar (“Old Blue Chair”) just when it seemed that things might be on the verge of getting out of hand.

The band was solid, lending some sparkling mandolin flourishes to the new “Pirate Flag” and a fiddle to the down-on-the-farm encore of “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” They spiced gems like “Never Wanted Nothing More” and the follow-your-dream ode “Big Star” with the Allman Brothers-like twin-guitar leads, building to a soaring triple-guitar attack on the show-closer, “The Boys of Fall.” And on the highlight of the night, the broken-hearted, hip-hop-ish “Somewhere With You,” Kenny Greenberg stepped into the spotlight for a truly classic arena rock guitar solo that knocked it out of the park.

Opening act Kacey Musgraves had the songs and the voice – her new album, Same Trailer Different Park, is a total knockout – but she lacked the stage presence to really connect with the crowd in a live concert situation. Middle act the Eli Young Band seemed to have no such problem, however, and frontman Mike Eli captivated the crowd with their hits “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” the latter cleverly seguing into Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly.”

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