Rascal Flatts shine in Mansfield

A review of Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town at the Comcast Center on June 16, 2012

, Contributing Writer

The great thing about a country concert is the familiarity, the promise that you’ll get some unexpected gems but ultimately, you’ll know and enjoy the majority of the songs. And when Rascal Flatts came to the Comcast Center on Saturday to headline WKLB Country 102.5’s 2012 Festival, that’s exactly what fans got.

After a mini, malfunctioning light show, the band rocked right into recent number one “Banjo” and then 2008 single “Bob That Head”. From there, the show continued with hit after hit, from early hits like “Fast Cars and Freedom” to more recent favorites like “I Won’t Let Go”. The only unknown song of the setlist was “Hot in Here” off the band’s new album Changed. However, the song is such a summertime country jam, no one cared about not knowing the words.

The trio of vocalist Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus and lead guitarist Joe Don Rooney were in a fine form. Each did their best to entertain the crowd, even during set lags. DeMarcus performed an “magic trick” of moving keyboards during “Backwards” so LeVox could get into the audience for “These Days”. LeVox didn’t spend much time in the fan area, however, so his trek back to stage seemed sudden and the gimmick unnecessary. Later, the band would take requests from the audience. While it sometimes seemed they were just making up what people said, they did play snippets of fan favorites like “Mayberry”, “Everyday Love” and “Stand”.

LeVox isn’t the most vibrant stage presence but always seems to enjoy himself and demonstrated some serious vocals on “Why Wait” and “Bless the Broken Road”. The former allowed the band’s fiddler John Jeansonne to shine on a harmonica solo. He followed that song with an awkward prayer but then switched gears completely for their famous cover of Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway”, which also featured Jeansonne’s wicked fiddler skills.

The band wasted no time with slower songs, only quickly sandwiching them between the faster crowd pleasers. A mash-up of “Feels Like Today” and “Everyday” got rid of two sleepier, more similar sounding songs to make room for “Summer Nights” and “Me and My Gang”. Drummer Jim Riley, a Boston native, performed a nice drum solo to accompany the more computerized sound to the latter song.

The main set ended with the band’s ode to their fans, “Here’s To You”, which also featured DeMarcus and Rooney on vocals. After a very short break, Rascal Flatts return and began their two-song encore with arguably the band’s most popular and beloved song in “What Hurts the Most”, complete with an impressive solo from Rooney shined. The band then welcomed each of the show’s openers – Little Big Town, Eden’s Edge and Eli Young Band – to end the show with a fitting and solid cover of Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re an American Band”.

Veteran quartet Little Big Town opened with a set full of great vocals and stage presence. While they forwent more well-known songs like “I’m With the Band” and “Fine Line” for newer material, their performances still provided a good time. The group’s four-part harmonies were impressive but it was vocalist Karen Fairchild who shined the brightest, especially on hit song “Little White Church,” which also featured a guitar solo from band member Philip Sweet.

The band’s recent single “Pontoon”, which currently sits in the Top 20 of the iTunes charts, allowed Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman to have fun right along with the audience during the breezy song. A cover of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” sounded effectively country, but provided an odd transition between “A Little More You” and “Bring It All Home”. New song “Self Made” showcased everyone in the band and led right into the final of smash hit “Boondocks”, which was the sing-along the audience had been waiting for.

Both Eli Young Band and Edens Edge didn’t have much time on stage but made do with what they had. Eli Young Band used their time to sing their recent hits “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and “Crazy Girl” and first hits “When It Rains” and “Always The Love Songs”. Lead vocalist Mike Eli may occasionally sound nasally, but it’s become a part of the band’s sound and isn’t distracting with their well-known material. Edens Edge, who performed on the side stage at last year’s festival, demonstrated some cool vocals from Hannah Blaylock on their song “Amen”. Even if they wasted time on cover songs, the band is clearly talented to keep moving on up.

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