His eyes wild with conviction and adrenaline, Kenny Chesney stared at the audience.
“I’ve been looking forward to this show for a solid year,” he shouted. “To say we’re excited to be back is an understatement.”
The audience — numbering an estimated 50,000 — roared its approval, which plastered a mile-wide grin on Chesney’s sweat-soaked face and sent him racing off, once more, across the immense stage.
As he did last year (and has for the last several, dating back to 2011), Chesney brought his “Spread the Love” tour and its high-octane, fiercely passionate brand of country music to the House That Jerry Jones Built, delivering an intense, two-hour set stuffed with songs from all corners of his catalog, including Noise, from the forthcoming Some Town Somewhere, due out next month.
It is astonishing to watch Chesney work a room of such scale, although given his familiarity with the space, perhaps it shouldn’t be as surprising.
Apart from Taylor Swift, no other A-list musical act has played AT&T Stadium as often as Chesney.
His repeated trips to Arlington have allowed him to utilize the full space in a way that collapses the overwhelming cavernousness and fosters a riveting intimacy. (Chesney isn’t shy about letting Jones know how he feels, either: “When we come here and play this building, we are treated like family,” he said at one point Saturday.)
With dazzling lights synchronized to the visuals plastered on the EnormoTron stretching over the field and Chesney running what seems like the equivalent of a 10K between the various corners of the stage, it’s as if AT&T Stadium is hosting a cozy, frenetic club gig.
Saturday’s performance also underscored another crucial element of Chesney’s music, one perhaps taken for granted in a country music climate when it seems as if most songs focus on it — his mastery at evoking getting away from it all.
The island-besotted Chesney deftly facilitates escape for an evening, sending an audience up and away and into a kind of tropical delirium. It’s the kind of sensation that leaves a person wondering if the Cowboyrita has gone to their head, or if their toes are buried in the warm sand and they have, however temporarily, slipped the bonds of responsibility.
With songs like Beer in Mexico, Summertime, Pirate Flag and No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem flooding the room, it becomes difficult to feel anything other than a kind of sun-blasted bonhomie, an easygoing ebullience reinforced by just how much fun Chesney and his six-piece band (including Arlington native Wyatt Beard on keys) is having.
The AT&T Stadium crowd got a bonus, of sorts, when Chesney brought out not one, but two of the opening acts to join him.
Old Dominion turned up to help sing Save It for a Rainy Day, which they wrote and Chesney recorded for his 2014 LP The Big Revival.
Hometown heroine Miranda Lambert joined him for a smoldering duet on You and Tequila, and George Strait’s The Fireman, which Chesney said functioned as a tribute to the man they’d helped celebrate in the very same room almost two years ago to the day.
Again and again, Chesney displayed his determination to reach every last soul tucked inside the massive room: “You people belong to us,” he bellowed, sweat glistening on his deeply tanned face and arms.
A Kenny Chesney concert resonates, on both sides of the stage, for the same reason: All involved are taking it very personally.
Lindale native Miranda Lambert, more than up to the challenge of conquering a room that size (and no stranger to performing at AT&T Stadium), ripped through a visceral 75-minute set before friends and family, balancing vulnerable ballads (Over You; Dead Flowers; The House That Built Me) with blood-and-thunder rockers (Kerosene; Little Red Wagon and her set-closing Gunpowder and Lead).
Lambert held her emotions in check, slipping just a little when the audience sang the conclusion of Over You back to her. She instead channeled her feelings into a fiery showcase, uttering the word “divorce” only once, and preferred to let knowing looks and venomous inflections on a few telling lyrics convey her pain. After all, it’s easier to take dead aim from the high road.