MANSFIELD -- Brooks & Dunn have virtually owned the vocal duo of the year honor at the Country Music Awards, having won it 12 of the last 13 years. They face stiff competition this time from Big & Rich -- the zany duo that headlined the last Boston Pops July 4th party -- but Brooks & Dunn blew away the challengers in the Tweeter Center's final show of the season on Sunday.
Brooks & Dunn were a well-oiled machine, fronting an eight-piece band and three backup singers while ripping through some of their 21 chart-topping songs and touching on their new album, ''Hillbilly Deluxe," which went to No. 1 on the Billboard country charts last week.
Big & Rich, on the other hand, were a big joke. They were a country version of Spinal Tap -- though maybe that's a disservice to Tap. Big Kenny and John Rich had a few redeemable moments, notably on ''Love Train," but the duo mostly came off as carny barkers masquerading as country singers. They didn't deliver excitement so much as desperately try to manufacture it via fireworks, smoke bombs, silly signs on the backs of their guitars (Rich had the word ''Scream!" and Kenny had ''Love Everybody"), and Rich's awkward smashing of his guitar at the end (Pete Townshend, you have nothing to worry about). And they brought out hick-hopper Cowboy Troy for a brief cameo, but the result was to want much more of him than them.
Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn were masters by comparison. This wasn't their best show (I've seen them better when paired with Reba McEntire and once with Dwight Yoakam), but it was good enough. They were overamped -- and had up to five electric guitarists cluttering the sound -- but still found a winning groove on past honky-tonk hits, sweet love songs (Dunn's falsetto on ''My Maria" recalled Roy Orbison), and the new hit ''Play Something Country."
Openers the Warren Brothers were a noisy and generic act that sounded like a wannabe version of the Georgia Satellites.