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Loosening up: Kenny Chesney brings his “Songs For The Saints” tour to Des Moines


Story and photos by Darren Tromblay

Electric. Thunderous. Striking. The adjectival cartwheels that will be turned in describing Kenny Chesney’s performance at Wells Fargo Arena Thursday night will be as generic as they are predictable. When Mother Nature throws a slow-moving softball over the plate in the form of a wicked thunderstorm that knocks the arena’s power out a minute into Chesney’s video intro, most will take  the easy route and swing.

But not here. Yes, it was an intriguing twist to have the lights go out, but 30 minutes later, everything was fine. Power was restored, and a second try at the video made it all the way through. Finally, there he was, Kenny Chesney, a thin slice of tanned, tank-topped and manufactured perfection.

The 51-year-old Chesney, now a full 25 years into his career and in support of his “Songs For The Saints” tour and 2018 album of the same name, bounced about the T-shaped runway, slapping fans’ hands while soaking in their love during openers “Beer In Mexico” and “Reality.” “Til It’s Gone,” “Summertime” and “Pirate Flag” followed, and “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems,” the Tennessee native’s nod to fellow beach lover Jimmy Buffett, and “Save It For A Rainy Day” were accompanied by more even videos of young, beautiful people having a boatload (pardon the pun) of fun swimming and soaking in the sun.  If Chesney imbibes as much in real life as the people in these montages, his liver is a study in absolute perfection. That’s the world of Kenny Chesney, after all: fun, laughs, barley pops and nothing but a good time. Perfect.

But that’s the problem — nothing is perfect. And in the realm of musical perfection, too much “paint-by-the-numbering” can make things seem, and sound, robotic in nature.

“Somewhere With You” was flawless. As was Chesney’s No. 1 hit, “I Go Back,” and his record-breaking 30th No. 1 single, “Get Along.” Yes, Chesney and his band are very well-rehearsed, almost to a fault. But someone once said that the banishment of imperfection is the destruction of expression. While that might not have been the case Thursday night, it was close, at least during the first half. The back half of the set, thankfully, took a swing for the better — i.e., imperfect — when set staples “Living In Fast Forward” and “How Forever Feels” gave way to “Setting The World On Fire,” in which female bassist Harmoni Kelley stepped to the front for some vocal duties. Chesney teamed with opener Caroline Jones earlier in the set on “You and Tequila,”and both instances proved to be welcomed and needed changes of pace.

One of the highlights of the night came during another chart-topper, “How Forever Feels,” in which Chesney engaged an audience member in the pit area, prompting him to let out a hearty laugh mid-verse. He recovered quickly, though, and continued on. Good. He’s human. The band almost seemed to loosen up as well, as the song took on a bit more of a swinging, less restricted feel to it than the recorded version.

Encore “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” was a campy delight with its unexpected left turn of an extended outro that allowed his band to shine and cap a run of life-infusing songs. That, Mr. Chesney, is the way it needs to be done. Tight, but loose. Perfect, but not. And if that doesn’t make sense, good. It’s not supposed to. Nothing is perfect.

Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the 10 need-to-know country artists in 2017, show opener Caroline Jones delivered her brand of pop country to polite reception from the Chesney-heavy audience. The 28-year-old Jones is a multi-instrumentalist who does something other than mock strum an acoustic guitar, qualities that could be her saving grace in an already-oversaturated market of young female artists trying to make their collective marks in country music. Single “Worth The Wait” carried a catchy hook, and set closer “Tough Guys” saw Jones with a slide guitar, “don’t give shit” lyric and harmonica solo to boot. The attitude and delivery were genuine. Time will tell.

David Lee Murphy stepped to the plate and wasted no time in ratcheting the tempo up a few notches with his feel-good country sound to set the stage for Chesney. It was standard, three minutes and out fare, but fun nonetheless. The 60-year-old Murphy belied his age with a rousing version of “Waylon, Willie and A Bottle of Jack” before bouncing into a string of what many concert-goers likely assumed were cover songs, ranging from Blake Shelton’s “The More I Drink,” to Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor,” to Thompson’s Square’s “Are You Gonna Kiss Me Or Not?” The thing is, those artists didn’t write those songs — David Lee Murphy did. Murphy’s ode to the goodness of all things “seasoned,” his No. 1 single “Dust On the Bottle,” drew the largest applause. There’s a lesson there. Are you listening Nashville?

Beer In Mexico
Til It’s Gone
Pirate Flag
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems
Somewhere With You
I Go Back
Get Along
You and Tequila (with Caroline Jones)
Save It For A Rainy Day
When The Sun Goes Down
All The Pretty Girls
Living In Fast Forward
American Kids
Setting The World On Fire
Everything’s Gonna Be Alright
How Forever Feels
Don’t Happen Twice
There Goes My Life
She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy