Category: Features

Real country with Reba

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

You put a country star in a concert hall in the middle of a casino, you shouldn’t be surprised if there were a lot of rhinestones, glitter, and Las Vegas-style cheesiness on stage.

And if you take a country star who crossed over to pop success during the big shoulder pads and big hair days of the 1980s, you would expect a dose of nostalgia and no steel guitar or fiddle.

Finally, if you take a country star who made it big in television, you’d expect a lot of medleys that briefly touch upon the hits and a lot of reminders that they were a multi-media success.

So, Reba McEntire’s performance at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods was not what one would expect.

Yes, there was a reminder about her stint on the sitcom, “Reba” and her role in the horror film “Tremors,” she didn’t belabor the points. And there were a couple of medleys (but they were seamless and seemed more an artistic choice rather than an effort to squeeze in as much music they can so they can get on the tour bus).

But mostly, McEntire presented a night of good, classic-style country music and gospel music. It was more early Loretta Lynn than Elvis in Vegas, more Grand Ol’ Opry than the 2018 Grammys.

McEntire reminded the audience with her fabulous performance that the best country music puts the focus on a story, rather than a clever catch phrase. Her songwriters told little short stories in verse and chorus, and McEntire’s voice provided the superb medium to make these tales come to life.

In songs like “Whoever’s in New England” and “Somebody,” McEntire evoked a context and characters through her voice. Both songs made me a little misty-eyed as I followed the travails of the protagonists.

I must confess, my knowledge of McEntire’s catalogue is entirely lacking. Except for the brief moment of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in an early medley and her version of the powerful “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” I didn’t recognize anything I heard.

But at no point in the evening was I bored because the music was unknown to me. After hearing her performances, I wanted to hear more Reba McEntire’s catalogue.

That’s the sign of a strong concert.

The power of McEntire was that her performance made me interested in the song, her voice drew me in. And she was ably abetted by a wonderful band.

McEntire also helped her cause at the Grand Theater June 30 with the way she connected to the audience. A couple of times, she took the time to talk about her family and her career. And her approach was so intimate it felt as if each of us in the audience was engaged with her in one-on-one conversation over coffee.

Country music labels have put their cash and energy into artists that are new. And there’s nothing wrong with bringing in fresh talent.

But there’s something to say about listening to country artists who have lived, who have honed their craft, and acknowledged and represent the genre’s heritage.

Reba McEntire is a veteran act who clearly loves country music and loves performing.

And the packed house at the Grand Theater clearly appreciated where McEntire has been and where she’s still going.

I give Reba McEntire’s June 30 concert at the Grand Theater at Foxwoods four out of four stars.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

Explosive Lamb of God ignites the crowd’s excitement

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

The power and fury of Lamb of God was evident two songs into their set at The Dome at Oakdale in Wallingford Sunday, June 3.

Prior to Lamb of God’s headlining set, Jasta and Behemoth set the heavy metal table.

As both bands whipped through their sets, the audience was enraptured and hypnotized by the action on stage.

Jasta, a local favorite because it’s a spin off of Connecticut’s own Hatebreed, played its own brand of heavy metal filled with tight grooves and a grass roots vibe. Lead singer Jamey Jasta clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play to tightly packed crowd under The Dome at Xfinity Theater. He relished his role to establish the communal atmosphere of a metal show.

Behemoth, who has been touring with Slayer as has Lamb of God been, carried the torch of mysterious, magical, mythical and epic metal. With their monkish hoods and makeup, they looked and played like demonic gods from medieval mythologies. They were larger than life and their set was hypnotizing.

But Lamb of God, playing in a rare smaller venue, upped the energy level to 11 in the building.

Lamb of God, touring behind “Legion: XX,” an album of punk rock covers under the original name Burn the Priest, took no time at all to set a fire underneath the crowd’s collective feet.

During Behemoth and Jasta, there were a few isolated incidents of crowd surfing that put security on alert. But they clearly were part of the metal ritual.

And as Lamb of God ripped into “Omerta” upon their stage entrance, the crowd was still grounded– albeit more enthusiastic and stoked than they were during the openers.

But as soon as the first notes of “Ruin” sounded, the energy level in the crowd exploded and had nowhere to go but up.

And soon, security took formation as fan after fan bombarded the stage as they soared across the hands and arms of their fan-mates.

All the commotion was understandable as Lamb of God lead singer Randy Blythe was primal and powerful as they launched into his vocals. And the band as a whole marched forward as a tightly primed metal machine—musically taut and tight and intent on a metallic groove.

Lamb of God clearly must feel blessed to be part of Slayer’s farewell tour, which set down at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville two nights before.

But Lamb of God proved their true element is under the spotlight where they not only provide the fuel for the fire in the ardor of metal fans, they are also the match that ignites the bomb of the fans’ adulation.

PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN

Lorde puts the art into pop

by MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR Sometimes when an artist choses music to play between breaks in a concert, the selections reflect their own personal preferences. So, it was telling that singer songwriter Lorde chose singer Kate Bush’s “Running Up the…