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West Valley City • After a long, hot day when even the beer in the cans and bottles at the tailgating parties become frustratingly warm, Kenny Chesney turned up at Usana Amphitheatre on Thursday to bring the beach cooler.
You might quibble that year after year, Chesney's act seems consistently predictable. But he has become the heir to the position of beach vibe shaman that once was held by Jimmy Buffett, now that is seems that Buffett no longer wants to mingle with Utahns. Some might say that the Zac Brown Band seems more kin to Buffett's spirit of hammock rock.
But only Chesney is able to make a concert such a transporting experience that you can almost smell the salt in the air. It's an atmosphere that not only condones beach balls in the crowd, but demands it.
No audience like Chesney's comes to the venue early in the day to get lubricated with shots before chasing down the night with music that is fun and unoffensive. You don't have to think too hard, which is good, since a steady stream of alcohol that day has killed many a brain cell.
With a straw cowboy hat, maroon tank-top, tight blue jeans and a deep tan from a sun that somehow hasn't turned his face into leather, the 45-year-old singer-songwriter delivered songs revolving around his favorite subjects: island girls, sand between his toes and, of course, alcohol. The tour is called the "No Shoes Nation Tour" a reference to his signature song "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem" but judging from the soused crowd that filled up the amphitheater's lawn and long beer lines, the tour might more appropriately be called the No Sobriety Nation Tour. It is not an accident that the two main sponsors of the tour are Corona Light and Blue Chair Bay Premium Rum.
Chesney's eight-piece backing band including six guitars (!) opened flashily with his anthem "Feel Like a Rockstar," but it wasn't until the third number of the night, "Beer in Mexico," that the stage's hi-res screens started beaming images of girls in bikinis diving into crystal clear waters, which continued throughout the night. (No complaints here.) The stage's large screens and phalanx of lights were impressive but not especially memorable, since Chesney himself is an energetic, sweat-soaked and magnetic frontman, eliciting squeals from women with pink cowboy hats.
The frenetic pace of the first half of the show didn't last throughout, with forgettable songs such as "Anything Like Mine" and "Never Wanted Nothing More" lacking the kinetic energy of tunes sung earlier in the night, such as "Pirate Flag" and "Summertime." And while Chesney's voice is comforting and distinctive, he doesn't vary his delivery much and isn't given to vocal flights of fancy that create awe. And I would have liked more songs from his new album, "Life on a Rock," where he wrote songs that revealed more of himself than at any other point in his career.
But the sound was clean and clear, as it usually is at the amphitheater, and a Chesney show at an inside venue is unfathomable. He, above everyone else, was made for the open air.
The encore of "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" was an odd choice, since after about 20 songs Chesney had proved that he is no longer someone who pretends to dream of a ranch, like many of his peers. His life is a beach, and he shared some of that with us, although during my car ride home I didn't see any bikini-clad girls in the passenger seat. (Plenty of complaints here.)
Where • Usana Amphitheatre, West Valley City
When • Thursday, July 18