[LIVE REVIEW] Virginia Beach, VA - 27 July



Sheryl Crow and Rascal Flatts perform in Va. Beach

By Rashod Ollison
The Virginian-Pilot
© July 28, 2014

Sheryl Crow is a slick chameleon. She changes her musical colors ever so slightly and with such a smooth continuity of guts and grace that it’s easy to overlook the rich subtleties of her craft.

She was one of the most formidable singer-songwriters to emerge in the ’90s, her fusion of classic rock, country and pop was smarter and more engaging than most from that era. In the process, she sold millions of records and took home nine Grammys and garnered critical success and respect – something that usually eludes rock female artists who have been so commercially powerful.

So it seems odd that Crow, whose accessible music carries such colorful artistic heft, would share the bill with Rascal Flatts, the musical equivalent of a big box store in the ’burbs – commodious and completely devoid of personality.

Both acts stopped at Farm Bureau Live in Virginia Beach on Sunday night, attracting a full house that was almost equal parts millennials and baby boomers.

After a limp, anonymous-sounding set from opener Gloriana, Crow strutted on stage in leather Capri pants and stilettos, strumming her glittery silver guitar. She and her excellent six-piece band kicked off with “All I Wanna Do,” Crow’s rollicking 1994 smash. That song was something of a harbinger for her recent, more overt county-rock direction as exemplified on her latest album, “Feels Like Home,” released last year. The difference is that her hit from 20 years ago is much less self-conscious than anything on “Feels Like Home.” But true to Crow’s touch, each song gleams with a studied professionalism and ingratiating craft.

On stage, though, the music – the current songs as well as the older hits – felt more relaxed, buoyed by the band’s solid sense of groove, which seemed to enliven Crow as she worked the stage, her voice clear and strong. “Best of Times,” a highlight from Crow’s current album, carried a raucous Chicago blues vibe, a welcomed contrast from the more streamlined version heard on “Feels Like Home.” With a funky undercurrent slighty reminiscent of Koko Taylor’s classic “Wang Dang Doodle,” the song was extended with a stomping instrumental break during which Crow showed off her skills on the harmonica.

She covered Johnny Cash’s somber ballad “Redemption” as vintage images of the iconic Cash scrolled across the giant backdrop. Midsong, it became a “departed duet” as Crow sang to Cash’s recording. It was somewhat jarring, hearing Cash’s varnished vocals come out of nowhere, but Crow made it affecting.

Her engaging and energetic set ended with a trio of her most pop-polished songs: “If It Makes You Happy,” one of the best rock tunes to come out of the ’90s; “Soak Up the Sun,” Crow at her sprightliest; and “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” one of her craftiest tunes.

Where Crow was unpretentious, her set sparkling with distinct but subtly related songs, Rascal Flatts was the picture of pop pomposity. The Ohio trio started with a literal bang – a burst of pyrotechnics and a pop concert cliché. The guys opened with “Payback,” the first song on their new album, “Rewind,” which was heavily and shamelessly promoted on the stage screens before the show. Lead singer Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney stood atop a platform above a giant karaoke screen on which the song lyrics flashed in time with the beat.

After the trio descended their place so high above the stage, they eased into the hits – a long stream of saccharine and strutting tales of love lost and found, of hearts broken and mended, of safe good times without a hint of danger. Most sounded like retreads of hair band power ballads with slight country trimmings and lame rock underpinnings. But no matter the tempo or lyrical topic, LeVox sang each song the same – with a palpable sense of self-satisfaction, warbling in that frilly, affected, adenoidal style that has marred urban-pop singing for the last 25 years.

At one point, Rascal Flatts and its five-piece band left the instruments behind and did some fine, but hammy, vocalizing.

They briefly harmonized Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” to the delight of the Virginia Beach crowd. Shortly afterward, Crow joined the guys on stage for two numbers, including a version of Rascal Flatts’ “My Wish.” They sat on stools, Crow surrounded by three guys, all singing about wishing someone the best in life while nursing a broken heart. But the song didn’t become believable until Crow opened her mouth, bringing a sense of wisdom and genuine swagger no one in Rascal Flatts was able to muster.

Rashod Ollison, (757) 446-2732, rashod.ollison@pilotonline.com

SOURCE: The Virginian Pilot


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