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Rascal Flatts intoxicates crowd

Rascal Flatts took over Darien Lake on Friday, bringing its pop-rock-country hybrid to an audience that appeared to be near capacity.

The gathered sang along, swayed, raised cellphones at the appropriate moments and generally made the trio of singer Gary LeVox, bassist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney feel like one imagines the pope must feel while preaching to a Vatican audience.

The downside of this feel-good, yee-haw, drink-more-than-you-should evening? Well, as singer LeVox mentioned just prior to the band's full-bore butchering of the Doobie Brothers' classic, "Takin' It To the Streets" -- a soul song with the soul stripped from it in this band's fists -- Flatts fans are "known to start drinking at noon on the day of the show." Groovy and all, ceptin' for the fact that an awful lot of people who appeared to have been, um, overserved populated the crowd. The general vibe in the audience, though celebratory on the surface, was marked by an air of boozy tension.

The band is nothing if it isn't tight, uber-professional, and fully attuned to the expectations of the folks who fork over cash for the privilege of watching it go through its motions.

When the band allowed its collective ego to convince it that covering the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan and, even more absurdly, Stevie Wonder, was a good idea, things went far further south than the one that is commonly represented by the renegade flag. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" was an atrocity, and its glowing review by the crowd cast into doubt the assembled's understanding of the history of R&B.

Dissing Kanye West as "Kanye Worst" struck a chord with the crowd, and as the band proceeded into what it claimed as its own roots -- bluegrass, in the form of "Lonesome Road," a song that bears little resemblance to actual bluegrass -- the absurdity factor peaked. Rascal Flatts is to authentic country music what buying a Sex Pistols T-shirt in 2011 is to true punk rock.

That said, this band is incredibly tight, and capable of conjuring up grandiose, emotion-filled moments that resonate with the band's fans. When opener Sara Evans emerged to join the band on the ballad "Easy," this point was driven straight home, past the roadblocks and checkpoints. This is musical melodrama, with gorgeously stacked voices rising to crescendos that are meant to tug at the heart-strings of the audience members, and seem to do just that.

So the setlist moved by in rapid fashion, through the heavy-pop inflections of "Why Wait," "Me and My Gang," "and Summer Nights," before settling into the first ballad of the evening, the mildly overwrought "Bless This Broken Road." The band's late-in-the-set revered cover of Tom Cochrane's "Life Is a Highway" provided another opportunity for a deafening crowd sing-along.

Intermediate string overflow Cannot justify line Opener Evans fared far better than her headliner. Her powerful voice pushed material that might've been less moving in lesser hands -- a bombastic take on Rod Stewart's hit "My Heart Can't Tell You No," for example, or her own cliche-ridden but still effective "A Little Bit Stronger" -- into an area of emotional conviction. The closer that Evans got to old-school country music -- "Suds In the Bucket" -- the easier it was to love her.



Rascal Flatts

With Sara Evans, Easton Corbin and Justin Moore. Friday evening in the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.