Kenny Chesney kicks off tour at Mohegan

A review of Kenny Chesney with LeAnn Rimes at the Mohegan Sun Arena on April 18, 2008

, Editor-in-Chief

His summer show is so big that he’s the only artist that can sell out Gillette Stadium. It’s no easy feat… just ask Bruce Springsteen. But before he tackles another sunny night in Foxboro, country superstar Kenny Chesney kicked off his "Poets and Pirates" tour with a two-night stand at the more intimate Mohegan Sun Arena. And like any tour opener, last Friday’s show did experience a few hiccups, but nothing big enough to slow down the "King of Country".

Rising from below the stage, Chesney began the new tour with "Live Those Songs Again". He quickly followed with "Summertime" after proclaiming, "We’ve been waiting all winter for this!" Unfortunately, a rather poor mix hindered both tunes as Chesney was barely audible, but the problem was fixed as the show progressed with "Beer in Mexico".&

Chesney was a firecracker of energy, working all ends of the stage and interacting with the audience at every chance. From bringing a little boy on stage for "Keg In The Closet" to signing an autographed guitar for another lucky boy in the crowd, his genuine love and appreciation for his fans was clearly evident. He fed off the showing praise from the faithful crowd who sang along to every song, and at one point even threw a bra on stage. After delivering "Big Star", Chesney quipped, "It only took 20 minutes to lose my voice, but so what, you’ll help me out." And that they did, though his vocals were still sharp.

Touring in support of his most recent release, 2007’s Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates, Chesney delivered a handful of new tunes. He introduced "Don’t Blink" as song about not taking life for granted. Later, he fooled the crowd by introducing George Straight during "Shiftwork", a song that they co-wrote and recorded for Chesney’s album. The crowd roared with approval before noticing nobody entering the stage, leaving Chesney more than amused. The joke was back on Chesney three songs later during "Never Wanted Nothing More", his latest single, when he forgot the second verse too (he recovered, sang the verse again, and all was forgiven).

One of the pleasant surpises during the show was Chesney’s band, a big 20-pice group including a horn section. They were stellar last summer, but it seemed Chesney was more willing to share the spotlight with them. A few guitar solos were extended and the catwalk that jetted out to make a "T" in front of the stage was open for all band members.&

"What I Need To Do", a song off 1999’s Everywhere We Go, was a surprising treat as it’s been away from his live catalog over the past few years. But Chesney was at his best when he was rocking out his faster tunes like "Living In Fast Forward" and "Young". On "Back Where I Come From" a video tribute to Connecticut was played on stage – a fresh reminder that Boston is so much better – no offense. Chesney closed out the main set with "How Forever Feels" before returning for two-song encore of "Anything But Mine" and "She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy".

The show was everything you would expect from Chesney, just a tad shorter. That was the lone problem with it, as adding on an extra 20 minutes would have allowed for a fan favoites like "I Go Back" and "She’s Got It all" as well as some rarities for the longtime fans who have grown accustomed to his standard setlists in recent years. But the fact is, playing the small confines of Mohegan Sun proved to be very memorable, even if it was more of a open rehearsal (not to mention a nice pay day!) than a full-on show. And for that, one cannot complain too much.

It’s hard to believe opener LeAnn Rimes is only 25. It seems like she has been a staple on the country circuit for a long time, then again, she did release her fist single when she was 13. Now toruing in support of her latest release, last year’s Family, Rimes will open for Chesney all summer. Her opening set on Friday swayed from ballads like “How Do I Live” to up-tempo rockers liker her closing cover of “I Want You To Want Me.”

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