Rascal Flatts strong and predictable

Music Review

February 17, 2007|By Rashod D. Ollison | Rashod D. Ollison,Sun Pop Music Critic

You knew it was coming. Three songs into their elaborately staged concert Thursday night at 1st Mariner Arena, members of the country-pop super-trio Rascal Flatts took nasty swipes at that other country-pop mega-threesome: the Dixie Chicks, who had swept the Grammys with five wins just this week.

Rascal Flatts, nominated for What Hurts the Most, went home empty-handed, and the guys seemed sore about it.

Lead singer Gary LeVox cattily sang the title of the Chicks' hit "Not Ready to Make Nice," then made a disgusted face.

"The difference is that we love country music," he said, and the packed house roared.

"How many people were here the last time they were here?" asked bassist Jay DeMarcus. "Oh, the both of you."

With the sour grapes out of the way, Rascal Flatts settled into a predictable groove for nearly two hours, delivering one surging country-glossed power ballad after another. Fans ate up the sap-rich love songs and vague inspirational numbers that have contributed to the group's success: Their latest album, Me and My Gang, sold 3 million copies; the previous one, Feels Like Today, sold 4 million.

Rascal Flatts excels at making thin, derivative formula memorable. The guys even manage to occasionally energize it. When they weren't indulging in corny stage patter, LeVox, DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney breezed through their greatest hits, backed by a competent but indistinctive five-piece band. Visually, though, the show was attractive with a sleek, complex stage design that featured lots of mini-monitors surrounding one huge one.

During "Love You Out Loud," the screens flashed sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes: lush green fields and snow-covered mountains. What all of it had to do with a song about devotional love is anybody's guess. But somehow the visuals made the lame tune more interesting. The same, more or less, was true about other stagy numbers in the show. As the trio crooned "Mayberry," a song that perhaps overly romanticizes small-town life, black-and-white archival footage of a Southern town circa the mid-'50s was looped on the screens. Ah, the good old days when downtown looked like a Norman Rockwell painting and, of course, there wasn't a person of color in sight.

About the middle of the concert, Rascal Flatts gave the anonymous band a rest and went for a nice unplugged approach. "Skin," a sad number about a young cancer patient named Sarah Beth, segued into "I'm Moving On," one of the group's fuzzy, looking-back-on-life numbers: I'm movin' on/At last I can see/Life has been patiently waiting for me/And I know there's no guarantees/But I'm not alone. LeVox, whose phrasing is as much Motown as Nashville, was particularly affecting on this cut.

The band returned midway into the sappy "Bless the Broken Road," bringing the heft back to the arrangements, and the pacing picked up. Toward the end of "Here's to You," a celebratory song LeVox dedicated to the fans, a storm of white confetti took over the arena.

You knew that was coming, too.

rashod.ollison@baltsun.com

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