CMA show mixes rock and twang Music: Country awards play second fiddle to performances and new faces. But there were winning moments.

September 24, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Over the years, there have been some pretty unexpected things on the music awards shows. We've seen Slash from Guns N' Roses cursing on the American Music Awards, Marilyn Manson baring his bottom on the MTV Video Music Awards, and Mr. Soy Bomb confusing Bob Dylan during the Grammys.

But none of that was quite as shocking as the sight of a mosh pit at the CMA Awards.

Granted, the pit was pretty sedate, as such things go, consisting entirely of well-mannered young girls. (This was the Country Music Association, after all.) But there was no mistaking the crowd-surfer floating over the mob as Shania Twain belted out "Honey, I'm Home."

Crowd-surfing at the CMA Awards? Are you sure Hank done it this way?

Well, no. But country music has changed a lot since Hank Williams was around, and this year's CMA Awards broadcast made it clear how much -- and how little -- things have changed in Nashville over the years.

Certainly the awards themselves ran the gamut from traditional values to neo-Nashville chic.

On the old-fashioned side, George Strait, perhaps the most upright singer in the business, took the male vocalist of the year award, and perennial winners Brooks & Dunn were named vocal duo of the year. But the video-genic Dixie Chicks won both the vocal group of the year and Horizon awards, while Steve Wariner's "Holes in the Floor of Heaven" was named both single and song of the year.

Garth Brooks was entertainer of the year, Trisha Yearwood was female vocalist of the year, and Tim McGraw won album of the year for "Everywhere."

But almost nobody watches this show to see who wins. They watch to catch the musical numbers, and as always, the CMA show offered a wide range of country music performances.

Twain's was perhaps the most radical. Dressed in a skin-tight pantsuit and backed by a band that looked a little less country than it did rock and roll, Twain acted as if the Grand Ole Opry House were Madison Square Garden, shaking the rafters with the song's boom-boom-clap! beat.

Viewers at home no doubt took the performance as just another musical feature, but apparently the volume level was a bit different there in Nashville. "I think they should call that 'Honey, I'm Deaf,' " joked host Vince Gill. "I can't hear."

Twain may have been loud, but at least she was dynamic, which was more than could be said for many of the evening's performers. Faith Hill's rendition of "This Kiss" was unfortunately typical. Although it was clearly a solid song sung by a remarkable voice, Hill's stage presence was so understated that she seemed almost to evaporate off the screen. If it weren't for the video screen showing cartoons behind her, there wouldn't have been anything to watch.

Likewise, Alan Jackson's performance of "I'll Go On Loving You" was so stiff and stilted that he was almost entirely upstaged by the video footage projected behind him. It was pretty eye-catching stuff -- a handsome couple dancing underwater -- but still, Jackson is generally more energetic than he appeared there.

It would be tempting to blame the limitations of TV staging for these lackluster performances, but Strait's rendition of "We Really Shouldn't Be Doin' This" argued otherwise. Even though all he did was stand there and sing, Strait's performance was so charged that he seemed almost to radiate energy, a trick the other performers would do well to study.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood got the best of both worlds, performing "Where Your Road Leads" live via satellite from Buffalo, N.Y. It helped that Brooks had his crowd whipped into such a frenzy that he and Yearwood sang to almost nonstop cheering. But there was no denying the intensity of their vocal chemistry, which made their performance one of the evening's hottest moments.

Gill delivered the show's most heart-tugging moment as he offered a musical tribute to his late father. But for the most part, Gill was charming, personable and slyly funny. Perhaps his best joke came after Brooks was named Entertainer of the Year. After presenter Kris Kristofferson reminded the audience that Brooks was in Buffalo, Gill -- who had also been nominated -- ran over and grabbed the award. "Must be present to win! Must be present to win!" he laughed.

As is always the case, the broadcast allowed the Country Music Association to introduce its new inductees to the Country Music Hall of Fame. That Tammy Wynette was the first brought in seemed fitting, given the enormity of her contribution and the suddenness of her death earlier this year. Moreover, the tribute offered by Pam Tillis and Lori Morgan was respectful.

But it came as a shock to find Elvis Presley admitted to the Hall of Fame some two decades after his death. What were these folks waiting for -- his resurrection? Worse, the performances of Elvis songs by Travis Tritt and Wynonna said more about their ambition than his achievement. (And while we're on the subject, shouldn't Wynonna know better than to boast about wearing Elvis' old stage clothes?)

Winners

Here the winners of last night's Country Music Association Awards:

Entertainer of the year: Garth Brooks

Album: "Everywhere," Tim McGraw

Single: "Holes in the Floor of Heaven," Steve Wariner

Song: "Holes in the Floor of Heaven," written by Billy Kirsch and Steve Wariner

Vocal duo: Brooks & Dunn

Vocal group: Dixie Chicks

Female vocalist: Trisha Yearwood

Male vocalist: George Strait

Musician: Brent Mason

Vocal event: "You Don't Seem To Miss Me," Patty Loveless with

George Jones

Music video: "This Kiss," Faith Hill

Horizon Award (for career growth): Dixie Chicks

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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