Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Nostalgic Chesney covers many bases

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The connection became obvious halfway through Kenny Chesney's show at Riverbend Sunday night. Chesney, self-styled Nashville hunk, is the new Conway Twitty.

Chesney was hamming it up on a run through some good old Twitty proto-smut, "Lay You Down," and the crowd - the female portion, anyway - was heating up. Chesney and his band took long pauses at the end of each chorus, letting the girly screams sink in.

These moments, more than any others of the 90-minute set, provided indisputable evidence as to the connection Chesney and his now-trademark sleeveless, skintight T-shirts have made with the female country fan demographic.

The show drew a huge crowd and possibly the rowdiest one Riverbend will see until Jimmy Buffett rolls in Aug. 26. Even the boyfriends and husbands seemed to be enjoying the Chesney hit parade, beginning with "Live Those Songs," "Young," and "Big Star," and on through "How Forever Feels," "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" and many more.

It's an impressive amount of hits amassed in a rather short career. That's why Chesney could be remembered the same as Twitty - an unstoppable hit-making machine, but also an unremarkable singer of little consequence in the course of country-music history.

Twitty's only real contribution to the country tradition was mawkish sleaze such as "Lay You Down." So far, Chesney's contribution is advancing the pop-country hybrid. Two of his last four songs were Buffett's "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane." And the band played the riff to Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" at the end of the show as Chesney signed autographs.

When he's not singing covers, Chesney is tapping into his favorite theme, nostalgia. He's either wishing he was in third grade (when everything was right) or in the fourth grade (when everything went wrong), or something like that. There was so much nostalgia it's hard to keep track.

When you're born in 1968, and you're singing about kissing Peggy Sue in the summer of '72, the whole glory-days thing has been taken way too far.

Somebody get the guy a time machine, so he can stop whining about the past and instead go live in it. Maybe he'll find his shirtsleeves back there.

E-mail cvarias@enquirer.com

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