Brooks & Dunn
Verizon Arena, Aug. 21
For better or worse, Brooks & Dunn are largely responsible for ushering in the new wave of twang-pop country as we know it, delivering the final blow to the “golden age” with their flair for showmanship and progressive gaud.
You don’t have to look any further than the enormous success of their 1996 cover of B.W. Stevenson’s classic country-folk love song, “My Maria” for a quick encapsulation of the early-’90s transfer of power. As hard as it is to admit, especially for a B.W. devotee like myself, Brooks & Dunn’s faithful take, though slick and updated, may just be better than the 1973 original.
Elsewhere, they’ve released a gang of self-written songs (a rarity in country circles) under their steer skull logo, deceptively nuanced, undeniably memorable and as masterfully crafted as any Southern-fried songs released since.
So with this, their “Last Rodeo” tour, they’re leaving behind a 20-year legacy of omnipresence. After all, it’s nearly flat-out disloyal for a Southerner not to have a small piece of affection roped off for the iconic duo, no matter how far removed you are from country music.
Proof? I went with a partner-in-crime who’s seen international tours as a drummer for a spazz-core dance-rock band and, here, oversees a venue for eardrum-detonating noise bands. It’s hardly the profile you’d draw for a Brooks & Dunn fan, but, good Southerner that she is, she yee-haw’ed and sang along for the entire — and I mean entire — two-hour set.
The other 10,479 in Verizon Arena this Saturday night were just as stirred. From the time the two exploded onto stage with “Play Something Country” to the inevitable finale of, well, you know exactly what it was, the two-hour, high-energy retrospect of one of the most successful careers in musical history kept the audience rapt.
Was it simply being in awe of their celebrity? After all, the two are icons to the point of caricature. Scrawny, bush-lipped Kix in his signature 5-gallon and lanky, jerky-tanned Ronnie with his facial hair that can’t decide if it’s a goatee or a neckbeard redefined the look of the land.
Maybe it’s because nearly every single song played that night turned into a party-time sing-along. “Ain’t Nothin’ About You,” their sexy-time anthem; “Neon Moon,” one of their earliest hits; “Brand New Man,” their first and greatest single; and, God help us, the tacky-but-undeniable “Rock My World (Little Country Girl)” were delivered by the duo with an oomph that only comes with finality.
That said, the two didn’t so much as look at each other the entire night, giving the show a healthy dose of tension that would have ruined the night if not for the fact that they’re such damn good performers, able to command a crowd with a single kick or wink.
But what this weekend’s concert lacked in camaraderie from the label-arranged duo, it made up for in significance. Critics of contemporary country may scoff, but seeing a sepia-colored video history of the two over the last two decades projected on stage while Kix played a gorgeous, acoustic rendition of “Last Rodeo” raised even the most stubborn of goosebumps.
After their split, Brooks will still charm with those half-drunk kinetics and Dunn will still use that ineffable campfire vibrato — one of the greatest ever in county music — but, as they assured the crowd, hell isn’t going to freeze over again.
— John Tarpley