MANSFIELD - At the climax of arena concerts, artists often like to shower audiences in celebratory confetti, or unleash a torrent of colorful balloons, or light up the stage with a downpour of pyrotechnic sparklers. Saturday night at the
While that kind of whiz-bang party tinsel reflects the level of success the pop-country trio has certainly achieved, it is also sometimes deployed as a diversion from the thinness of the product on display.
To their credit, guitarist Joe Don Rooney, bassist Jay DeMarcus, and, most impressively, singer Gary LeVox don't require such assistance. Their adult contemporary-tilted anthems are formulaic, but with pleasing vocal harmonies and solid songcraft as the cornerstone of that formula, they hold immense appeal, as do the band members' gracious demeanors. So even as they traversed the kind of flashy stage set - complete with mammoth video screens and a grandiose metal staircase descending from the rafters - that boffo success affords, they exuded neither the aloof cool nor calculated aw-shucks posturing of some of their peers.
With the help of a skilled five-man band, the trio reveled in stair-step vocal blending, economical guitar solos, and solid backbeats as they recreated their catalog of soaring romantic ballads and sunshine-suffused midtempo odes to women, cars, and lives lived fully. The sold-out crowd eagerly served as backing vocalists on hits like "Bless the Broken Road," "What Hurts the Most," and "These Days." Not that LeVox needed any help, as he was in great command of his instrument, hitting the peaks of ballads like "Every Day" and zipping through the more rapid-fire passages of a cover of "Life is a Highway" with panache.
Although the cut-and-paste sloganeering in some songs - with the "I Hope You Dance" knock-off "My Wish" the most egregious offender - got tiresome and the regional pandering was laid on thick - we lost count of the cheap applause-generating references to the Red Sox - a genuine sense of goodwill permeated the 100-minute performance that kept the band firmly between the ditches.
Gaining fast on her headliners in terms of crossover success is Taylor Swift. The lithe blond teen sold more than 3 million copies of her debut album thanks to a combination of relatable youthful melodrama and pop melodies.
Among the little girls in the crowd, Swift was the clear draw based on T-shirt voting. And it's easy to see why. On the surface Swift the performer exudes girl-next-door wholesomeness, but Swift the songwriter is much more knowing. She impressively and cleverly distills the extremes of swoony romanticism and fits of pique familiar to teenage girls everywhere. Whether singing of heartache on "Teardrops on My Guitar" or joy on "Our Song," Swift is cannily and enviably self-aware.
But Swift the singer is much more limited, showing a lot of spunk but little range Saturday night. An attempt at a snarling, bluesy intro to "Picture to Burn" and "wild" drum-off during the angry "Should've Said No" may have come from an authentic place of rage for the songwriter, but her hair-tossing and posing felt contrived. But that's a maturity issue that may well work itself out in time.