Country music fans haven’t had much to get excited about during this year’s Pacific Amphitheatre concert series: just Blake Shelton and Montgomery Gentry are among the 23 acts.
Orange County Fair organizers obviously have to present a well-rounded schedule. Since the genre has a shaky track record here (witness last summer’s moderately attended Country Throwdown festival at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre), who can blame them for booking cautiously?
On Wednesday, Montgomery Gentry (also the Throwdown headliner) drew a respectable sized crowd to Costa Mesa, Calif. for a satisfying, rip-roaring set that lasted more than 90-minutes. Plenty of cowboy hats were spotted and one young guy wore a large spiky Mohawk like something you’d see at the Vans Warped Tour.
Since debuting in ‘99, the Academy of Country Music Award-winning, Kentucky duo has notched 17 top 20 hits, as well as three platinum and two gold-certified albums. The follow up to 2008’s “Back When I Knew it All” is due out later this year.
Taking the stage to the sound of helicopters, a roaming spotlight and the “Theme from Mission: Impossible,” Montgomery Gentry opened with their raucous 2000 single “All Night Long,” originally recorded with Charlie Daniels. They immediately got some call and response action going on the rockin' tune, which found the band utilizing four (!) electric guitars.
The tall, jovial Eddie Montgomery wore his trademark wide-brimmed black cowboy hat (constantly adjusted to either shield or expose his bugged out eyes). He spun his microphone stand, chucked and threw up devil horns at every opportunity, essentially playing the comic foil to straight man and music partner, Troy Gentry.
“Are you ready to party?” The question - which Montgomery yelled out before the needling guitar riffs on a foot stomping “Hillbilly Shoes” - needed no reply: fans were amped up from the get go. They readily hoisted beers in the air and sang along at the highest volume of all OC Fair shows I’ve attended so far.
Some sweet harmonica work and melodic keyboards/guitars on the life lessons song “Back When I Knew it All” featured highly effective vocal trade offs by the duo and was an early highlight. Montgomery’s gravel-voiced pipes were a little ragged, but Gentry and the rest of the group’s backing harmonies more than compensated.
Humorous, dysfunctional family tale “Long Line of Losers” prompted fans to sway along, while hard-driving country rocker “My So-Called Life” (the first of three songs from the forthcoming album) fit well within the rest of the repertoire. “Damn Right I Am,” another feisty new one, and latest single “Where I Come From” were patriotic. They provided the perfect opportunities for a man near the stage to wave a small American flag.
Montgomery referred to American military heroes before the excellent, inspiring “Something to Be Proud Of,” where Gentry displayed his vocal prowess with a rapid-fire delivery. During the twangy, slide guitar laden “Daddy Won’t Sell the Farm,” two ladies hopped onstage, mugged for a picture with the performers and snuck quick hugs and kisses.
Reaching back to debut disc “Tattoos and Scars” for the title track, Gentry recalled Randy Travis on the mid-tempo tune. The poignant lyrics to “Lucky Man,” a stirring, piano-led ballad, definitely hit home for Montgomery, who recently battled prostate cancer successfully. He capped the song with a hearty thanks to God.
A snippet of “The Pledge of Allegiance” prefaced fist-pumping anthem “My Town” and an alcohol themed “One in Every Crowd” finished the main set on an energetic note. Now that Brooks & Dunn have retired, Montgomery Gentry are ready to assume their country music mantle.