This review was first posted on The Orange County Register site.
For country-lovin’ concert-goers who like to party, Go Country 105‘s annual Go Fest was the place to be Saturday night (Aug. 13). Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater doubled as a favorite watering hole for a countless number in the capacity crowd, while the evening’s three principal performers, including headliner Toby Keith, essentially served as an above-average house band.
Given that yours truly is not accustomed to being grabbed by hammered fans looking for somebody to break their fall, I admit to being a bit biased. But the proceedings on the main and side stages definitely took a backseat to the audience action all around. By the time Keith took the stage just after 9 p.m., it’s a safe bet many in the audience were counting on friends (or a friendly neighborhood reviewer) to inform them post-hangover about how the music-making itself went down.
Keith, backed by a superb 10-member troupe, performed the majority of his chart-topping hits, as well as many of the best tracks from last year’s excellent Bullets in the Gun. In addition to the title track, highlights from that album included the accessible “Somewhere Else” and the rowdy singalong “Get Out of My Car.” Early in his two-hour turn, Keith also played his new single, “Made in America,” a patriotic tale (from his forthcoming album Clancy’s Tavern) that celebrates one man’s refusal to give up on brand U.S.A.
His material continues to resonate so strongly with fans via straightforward lyrics, catchy choruses and, in the case of the patriotic one-two punch that ended the show, “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” messages that are often centered on the Oklahoma native’s love of God and country. Keith, who turned 50 last month, occasionally delved into deeper material, especially in the heartfelt tale of loss “Does That Blue Moon Ever Shine on You,” which found the singer’s rich baritone accompanied only by his keyboardist in the most affecting performance of the day.
Yet it was his tales of casual romance and hearty drinking that became the perfect sonic backdrop here for pounding down brews. The honky-tonk-tinged “I Love This Bar,” the infectious “God Love Her,” the Willie Nelson duet “Beer for My Horses” (amazing modern technology had them effectively trading vocals for all to see) and the old-time rock ‘n’ roll-flavored “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action” all hit home here. So did the impressive pyrotechnics used throughout his 22-song set.
Of the other artists on the bill, North Carolina son Eric Church received the most rousing reception. Performing a hard-hitting 55-minute set, he has taken modern country to another level by adding AC/DC-meets-Thin Lizzy hard-rock intros to his country-rock blend. Backed by a five-man band whose members looked like they’d be right at home head-banging on the Sunset Strip, Church led his group through highlights from his successful new album Chief plus favorites from his two earlier discs.
The crowd loved his infectious “Drink in My Hand,” the breezy “Springsteen” and introspective “Sinners Like Me.” It’s clear Church has tapped into the same successful party spirit that has provided Keith with a long parade of hits since the early ’90s.
The first artist to perform on the main stage Saturday was newcomer JT Hodges, whose first single “Hunt You Down” has garnered widespread national airplay. He certainly worked his tail off, heading out into the crowd and really trying to get the early birds excited, but material other than his hit wasn’t strong enough on initial listen to connect with this audience.
O.C.’s own Peter Brandon, performing on the side stage in the early evening (as did fellow upstarts Jason Charles Miller and Bradley Gaskin), offered up a solid 35-minute set featuring both originals (the humor-laced “The Great Indoors” was a highlight) and his usual reworkings of both Cheap Trick‘s “I Want You to Want Me” and Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Crazy Train” that delighted those looking to get the party started as soon as possible.
As if they needed an excuse.