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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014

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In Music Reviews

Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney of Rascal Flatts were met with a warm Milwaukee welcome Wednesday night at Summerfest's opening night (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

The band took the stage just after Summerfest's opening night Big Bang fireworks concluded at 10 p.m. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

It may have been late, but the crowd's spirits were as high as their shorts. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

The talent of the trio is undeniable. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

This stop at the Big Gig was part of the "Changed" tour for Rascal Flatts, their first cross-country tour since moving on to indie Big Machine Records. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

"We hate it when people leave upset because they didn't get to hear their favorite Rascal Flatts song," said lead singer Gary LeVox. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

In Music Reviews

Speaking of banter, no one delivers it like country music acts, and Rascal Flatts is no exception. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Rascal Flatts and friends rock the house


It was cowboy hats, cowboy boots, short shorts and flannel crop tops as far as the eye could see.

"I love how y'all wear these shorts so high," joked Rascal Flatts bass guitarist Jay DeMarcus, doing an impression of the "Urban Cowboy"-esque fashion of his Milwaukee audience. The crowd roared approvingly.

The band took the stage just after Summerfest's opening night Big Bang fireworks concluded at 10 p.m. It may have been late, but the crowd's spirits were as high as those shorts.

The audience was on its feet as Rascal Flatts band members DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney appeared onstage ensconced in columns of twinkle lights (the stage set lived up to former Flatts tour hype – like Picasso meets Dolly Parton, four cubes were suspended from the air above the stage, acting as makeshift JumboTrons).

The talent of the trio is undeniable. It's all too rare to see a live act and know so clearly that they aren't lip-syncing – and yet still be impressed by their voices. This was nonetheless the case with Rascal Flatts as it delivered vocally on emotional power ballads like "Here Comes Goodbye" and "Bless the Broken Road."

And the band clearly knows how to please an audience. The crowd was on its feet the entire time, even during slower songs, and only towards the encore ("What Hurts the Most") did disinterested teens put their feet up and start texting.

"We hate it when people leave upset because they didn't get to hear their favorite Rascal Flatts song," said lead singer LeVox. DeMarcus chimed in: "So it's request hour in Milwaukee!" They fielded requests from the audience and played favorites like "Mayberry" and "While You Loved Me." Granted, the requested songs weren't performed in full, but it was still a nice moment of interaction between the band and their fans.

Speaking of banter, no one delivers it like country music acts, and Rascal Flatts is no exception. It laid on the easy Southern charm thick, and the audience ate it up. The wide appeal of Flatts was obvious at the Amphitheater. The crowd was largely made up of 20-somethings but there were kids under 10 (and some grandparents) who were up way past bedtime, rocking out to "Summer Nights."

This stop at the Big Gig was part of the "Changed" tour for Rascal Flatts, its first cross-country tour since moving to independently-owned Big Machine Records (their former label, Lyric Street, closed in late 2010). The tour kicked off several weeks ago on the East Coast to sold-out shows, and Rascal Flatts certainly felt the love in Milwaukee.

Of course, the lateness of the hour drew comment. Farmers Insurance (who sponsors the "Changed" tour) promoted the Twitter account @WeAreFlatts and projected audience members' tweets onto the oversize screens inside the Amphitheater – a cute idea, until it got to be 9:45 and the headliner hadn't taken the stage yet. Then the disgruntled texts started to pour in – amusing for fellow audience members, likely annoying for concert promoters.

The opening acts were a bit long-winded but strong nonetheless. Edens Edge took the stage first, having the unenviable task of singing to a half-full house who paid to see someone else.

It won the crowd over, though, by performing covers of Top 40 hits like Fun's "We Are Young" and Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream," plus the original song, the catchy "Amen."

The Eli Young Band was equally popular with the audience, who loved the hits "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" and "Crazy Girl."

The real star of the evening, however, was the band Little Big Town. Immediately preceding Rascal Flatts' performance, the group owned the stage with hits like "Boondocks" and "The Reason Why." Groups of girlfriends stood and got their groove on to "Little White Church" – a spectacular angry-woman ballad if you've ever heard one, and sung to perfection by vocalist Karen Fairchild.

True, Rascal Flatts was almost outshone by the prowess of the opening acts and the excitement of the Big Bang. But as soon as the trio took the stage, it was clear that DeMarcus, LeVox and Rooney were the ones everyone was waiting for all along.

Turns out, nothing's "Changed" at all.


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