What's the secret of the wildly successful country-music team of Brooks & Dunn? Simple. They aren't really a team at all.
During their 75-minute concert Thursday at the Greek Theatre, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn functioned more like one of those picture-in-picture TV sets: twice as much to watch as single-picture models with no discernible impact on the quality of either program.
In fact, for an act that just won its third straight award as top vocal duo from the Country Music Assn., they engaged in precious little two-part harmonizing. That makes Brooks & Dunn seem far less like a traditional musical duo than one band with two frontmen.
An advantage to the two-headed calf approach is that it gives fans two distinct looks and stage personas from which to choose: an average Joe who happily works his butt off to please (Brooks, who grimaced more with each antic gesture than the average member of the World Wrestling Federation); and a talented hunk with a beard who isn't afraid to show his romantic vulnerability (Dunn, who also is the better singer).
Truth be told, vulnerability of any stripe got short shrift in this show, one in their first full tour as headliners. The one time Dunn attempted heart-on-sleeve storytelling--during the introduction to country's current No. 1 single, "She's Not the Cheatin' Kind"--he was largely drowned out by his over-amped seven-man band.
That was one of just two slow songs in an uptempo 14-song set that treated ballads like speed bumps on a freeway. Dunn was quoted recently as saying that the reason they don't do more slow tunes is "it sounds kinda funny for two guys to be singing a ballad."
Would someone please send these guys a copy of the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me"?
Still, songs with emotional substance are scattered over B&D's three blockbuster albums--the latest of which, "Waitin' on Sundown," made its debut last week at No. 1 on Billboard's country chart. But none found its way into the "Boot Scootin' Boogie" boys' live show. Apparently the primary goal was generating adrenaline, in the hope that all the flashing lights, throbbing beats and high-decibel guitars would fill the hole where the show's heart should be.
Martina McBride's opening set was as superficially attractive as the air-brushed photos on her album covers. The only emotionally provocative moment came with her final number, Gretchen Peters' "Independence Day" (the video of which McBride recently picked up the CMA's video of the year award).
Before leaving the stage, the pixieish singer politely thanked the cheering crowd "for believing in that song as much as I do"--a song, as it happens, that lionizes a woman who escapes an abusive marriage by torching her house, with her husband still inside. A token lyrical stance of moral neutrality ("I ain't sayin' it's right or it's wrong") is feeble compensation for this celebration of murder, no matter how unsympathetic the victim may be.