Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Love and Theft concert review: San Bernardino, Calif.

There’s a song on Love and Theft’s 2012 self-titled album called “Girls Love to Shake It.” 

On Tuesday night at the Brandin’ Iron, scores of female fans in attendance were more than willing to do just that when the country/pop duo played the fun ‘n’ frisky tune (one even threw an undergarment their direction).

Initially formed in 2006 as a trio in Nashville, Love and Theft put out the solid debut CD World Wide Open three years later and snared two top 30 singles on Billboard's Country chart. Touring stints with Taylor Swift (who penned “Hey Stephen” about Love and Theft singer/guitarist Stephen Barker Liles) and Brad Paisley increased their live profile. 

By the time Love and Theft’s RCA Nashville debut arrived, Liles and fellow singer/guitarist Eric Gunderson had stepped things up a few notches. The result was one of the stronger country releases of last year and a No. 1 single with “Angel Eyes.”

Onstage in San Bernardino, during their first West Coast club tour, Liles handled the lion’s share of lead vocals. But Gunderson was hardly a slouch in that department. Whenever the two harmonized, it was smooth as silk. The highly satisfying 75-minute set included all but three selections from Love and Theft, a couple off World Wide Open, some new ones and choice covers. 

The proceedings opened in rocking fashion with “Runaway,” as Liles, Gunderson and their three piece band battled an overbearing sound mix that was gradually corrected. A playful “Inside Out” segued into a fast, honky tonkin’ take on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” complete with drum solo.

Liles injected plenty of humor into his performance, whether it was making bug-eyes at the large crowd or mugging for fans’ cameras. He and Gunderson frequently nodded in approval at their respective guitar playing (mostly acoustic) as well as that of their bandmates. 

Standouts included the relaxed “Girls Look Hot in Trucks,” the sinewy groove in top 40 single “Runnin’ Out of Air,” affecting cover of John Waite ballad “If You Ever Get Lonely” and spiritual-infused “Amen” (with Liles doing an impressive sustained vocal note at the end).

A ragged version of Martina McBride’s “Wrong Baby Wrong,” which Liles co-wrote with the Warren Brothers, was taken back from being “a chick song” and the first encore featured a rousing “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty. Appropriately, Love and Theft closed with the strident “Angel Eyes,” fans singing right along loudly.      

Love and Theft heads out on the road soon with Tim McGraw and Brantley Gilbert, with various dates from May-July. Locally, the tour arrives at San Manuel Amphitheatre in Devore on June 8.

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