Live in No Shoes Nation: Ten Years Of Concert Hits
Blue Chair Bay/Sony Nashville
Kenny Chesney has built his career on stunning, high-energy live performances and boundless enthusiasm that leaves his dedicated audiences exhausted, with his tunes swimming around their heads for days after. The four-time winner of the CMA’s coveted Entertainer of the Year, Chesney is the only Country Artist on Billboard magazine’s Top 10 Touring Acts of the Last 25 Years. He sits there comfortably alongside such rock legends as Elton John, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Madonna. From small beginnings of playing local Tennessee bars, he has quietly found himself a true stadium headliner.
This double-CD is something of a surprise release. Usually big stars like Chesney plan their releases months in advance and spend much time either writing or choosing songs to record before heading off to spend weeks in the studio getting it just right. Chesney had no plans for a ‘live’ album, though over the years he’d accumulated hours and hours of concert recordings. At a loose end he started listening to a few of these recordings and it slowly dawned upon him that he had something special. It wasn’t just the quality of the performances that inspired this release, it was the interaction of the No Shoes Nation audiences over the years at stadium shows, bar gigs, amphitheatres and massive beach takeovers. The magic of this set is hearing the fervour of those audiences, whether it be on the beach at Perdido Key, on the Florida/Alabama line or Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field ... from Tampa, Kansas City, or Denver’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre to Foxboro, Massachusetts.
I’ll be honest, initially I was somewhat disappointed that this set had been patched together from numerous concerts. I’ve always preferred a ‘live’ album to be a single concert experience from the time the performer walks on stage through to the climaxing ending and maybe an encore. Anything less, I feel is short-changing the listener. But having soaked up this set over numerous listens, I have to say that it works brilliantly, though in a different experience than I expected. (albeit a different expance than I’d expected)
It really is the audience participation that so often made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle, especially memorable moments like the reflective Boston and the emotional There Goes My Life (No.1, 2003) which had me drying my eyes; but then there’s the rousing Young (a No.2 from 2001) and Summertime, both of which had me knocking over chairs with enthusiasm and wishing to God that I wasn’t a ‘silent singer’ (one that sings at concerts just in their head and heart, but in their own way are just as enthusiastic as those vocalising at full throttle).
Did I mention that a few guest artists drop by to enhance some special moments? Taylor Swift adds sweet vocals to Kenny’s 2003 Big Star, No. 2 hit, then writer Mac McAnally duets on his Down The Road, which Kenny took to the top in 2008 and David Lee Murphy steps up for Dust On The Bottle, which he took to No.1 in 1995. Grace Potter duets on their Grammy winning You And Tequila, Zac Brown Band join in on Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven, Dave Matthews adds vocals to a medley of The Joker/Three Little Birds, but possibly the highlight comes with Eric Church on an extended When I See This Bar, which is quite addictive.
Just in case you might be thinking this is just a collection of rowdy sing-alongs, then let me put you right as Kenny is an astute song purveyor and he wisely throws in more lyrically deep songs like The Boys Of Fall, with its deep links to American football, or Guy Clark’s fond reminisce if Hemingway’s Whiskey and Kenny’s own Old Blue Chair, that gently transports you miles away from the rat race that consumes us all.
The best music is all about escapism, and Kenny Chesney is a master at creating that escapism. He might not be the best or most powerful singer around the block. He’s not the greatest entertainer that ever walked the boards. But over the past 25 years or so he has emerged as a voice for Middle America and has gathered up millions of dedicated fans as he’s criss-crossed the States with his simple yarns of backroads, beaches, bars and living life to the full whilst reflecting quietly on where he’s come from and where he’s heading … down that old road to good times and being free of everyday tribulations. It might not be too deep, but it sure does appeal to a whole lot of people in these times of uncertainty. Here, over two extravagant discs, you can hitch a ride on the Chesney No Shoes Nation bandwagon. I urge you to come along for the ride, if nothing else, you’ll feel pretty good at the end, and just might be tempted to do it all over again.