There's not much that's old-fashioned about country music these days.
Monster acts crisscross the country -- such pairings as Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, who swept through town a few weeks ago, and diva Reba McEntire and duo Brooks and Dunn, who roared into Marine Midland Arena on Saturday night.
Technology is strictly space-age. Huge video screens displayed Reba McEntire's many outfits -- black jumpsuit, sparkly blue gown, glittering short skirt and go-go boots -- to best advantage, and showed us every twitch of Ronnie Dunn's eyebrows and Kix Brooks' mustache. As Brooks and Dunn sang "Brand New Man," blinding lights accompanied the line, "I've seen the light."
Props were elaborate. In Brooks and Dunn's "Boot Scootin' Boogie," two huge inflatable cowboy boots rose from beneath the stage, bobbing clumsily as the big audience roared. For "Rock My World, Little Country Girl," they brought out two inflatable country girls. No joke!
Luckily, considering all this newfangled day derring-do, there's something old-fashioned about Brooks and Dunn.
They're not afraid to remake square oldies, like "Husbands and Wives" or "My Maria." Speaking of "My Maria," they even dare to yodel. Dunn is skinny and scraggly, like a Civil War soldier, while Brooks is portly and cocky. They're always joshing each other. It's like old country vaudeville.
And they josh us. "How you doin' up there on the hill?" Brooks drawled at the people in the high seats. "Way up on the hill," he said, reeling around as if his bottled water were a beer. (It should have been a beer. Bottled water looks really out of character for this guy.)
It's a tough call on who's the bigger draw, Brooks and Dunn, or McEntire. Apparently they alternate their order; for their last concert, in Cleveland, McEntire headlined.
Saturday night, though, Brooks and Dunn finished up the night. "That red-headed girl, was she here?" Brooks inquired, alluding to Reba.
She sure was.
Unfortunately, the crushing volume and sheer size of country shows comes at a price, and the unique beauty of McEntire's voice of delivery was all but lost with the sound system and deafening drums. She sounded tinny.
It's a pity, because her gestures and expression, magnified on those screens, made her emotions look genuine, especially in such tour de force numbers as "I'd Rather Ride Around With You," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," "Take It Back," the big hit "Forever Love" and "Why Haven't I Heard From You?" (As she growled the chorus, white lights flashed on us accusingly.) Her talented backup singer Linda Davis joined her in "Does He Love You Like He's Been Loving Me?"
Without doubt, McEntire connected with the crowd. People screamed as she appeared suddenly on a platform in the center of the arena to sing Aretha Franklin's "Respect." Few singers besides Aretha can carry that number off. Reba can. She does it in her own way.
Brooks and Dunn lost no time in giving the crowd what they wanted. Hit after hit came at us, from "My Maria" to "How Long Gone." (In a typically old-fashioned touch, the chorus, "How long gone are you gonna be?" is drawn out nasally to best effect.)
In a touching solo, Dunn sang his own "Neon Moon" to a slower beat than we're used to hearing. It's great when big arena stars make a song sound different from the way it is on the record.
Opening act David Kersh drew screams with "Day In, Day Out" and "Boys Will Be Boys." Terri Clark, up next, was a stitch: Robust and tomboyish in her jeans and cowboy hat, she played a cowbell, jumped up and beat the drums and dished out raunchy jokes about Kersh.
BROOKS AND DUNN
and REBA McENTIRE
Saturday in Marine Midland Arena.