BIG & RICH - CHRIS YOUNG
BILLBOARD - 170 RUSSELL ST
SAVE WATER, DRINK BEER
It was a serpentine omen of sorts.
The quaint queue snaked 200 metres from Russell St into Little Bourke Street as dusk fell on the autumnal chirp of horses of a vastly different colour to the hot rods on the Yarra Banks and beyond at Albert Park lake.
This was a rural cowboy and cowgirl culture with a turbo tonking engine deep in the bowels of a club that hosted Taylor Swift before she became a superstar.
And, yes, it was the same promoters - Sydney survivor Rob Potts and little Van Diemens Land refugee mate Michael Chugg.
Young revealed song sources and reached back for chart-topping ballads Lost , Tomorrow and You , 2010 Grammy nominated Gettin' You Home (The Black Dress Song), When She's On with Merle Haggard reference and title track of third album Neon .
The Nashville Star winner punctuated his set with a cover of Z.Z. Top hit Sharp Dressed Man but not his Doobie Brothers tribute disc tune China Grove .
Young catered for the Bro-Country genre with I Can Take It From There , replete with Conway Twitty references, and Nothing But the Cooler Left .
Some of Young's patter was lost in his delivery but his action seemed to have spoken louder than words.
And the bearded baritone introduced his band featuring a Grammy winning pedal steel guitarist before his finale - his anthemic, hedonistic Save Water, Drink Beer.
That was not a handy hint for the reviewer as alcohol was taboo with his arthritis medication - and mine host Rob Potts further relieved the pain by finding much appreciated plush seating vacated by Young's meet and greet team during the break.
BIG & RICH, COWBOY TROY AND MORE
This was of huge benefit for the reviewer and photographer partner who had now premium views for the arrival of headliners Big & Rich , also making their second Australian tour and Melbourne debut.
We heard remixes of Sweet Home Alabama , Country Girl, Shake It For Me and more.
Mr Sinister was not just a cameo cavalier - he stayed on stage for the duration, adding extra dimensions to a soon be explosive invasion when Big Kenny Alphin, 51, and John Rich, 41, fiddler, pedal steel guitarist and rhythm section leaped into action.
Fittingly the entrée was 2005 title track Comin' to Your City that name checked San Antonio, Buffalo, Phoenix and other hot locales with Big Kenny and Little John jumping up and down with the power of a herd of elephants.
SAVE LIVES, WIN MEDALS AND SONGS
The evocative moment was Rich explaining the history of 8 TH Of November - another Nu Country TV staple and sibling of John Schumann's Only 19 .
“He was 19 and green with a new M 16/ just doing what he had to do/ he was dropped in the jungle where the choppers would rumble/ with the smell of napalm in the air.”
Rich recalled how he met song source, Niles Harris then 58, limping and grey-haired in a South Dakota bar, long after three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Much later 25 year Army veteran Harris gave Big Kenny the top hat he often wears in public appearances.
But Rich had a new revelation in this concert.
The Vietnam veterans were also saved by Australian allies - and the 173 rd Airborne held its reunion in Australia in April, 2014.
Rhodes Scholar and fellow former Army helicopter pilot and soldier Kris Kristofferson introduced the song and accompanying video version
Almost as tear-jerking was Live This Life inspired by a homeless man calling himself Jesus whom they met on the streets - the final track of 2004 debut disc Horse Of A Different Colour .
Rich recalled the Big & Rich brotherhood - that also launched the careers of Redneck Woman Gretchen Wilson and James Otto and resurrected John Anderson and Billy Joe Shaver - began in 1999 when Rich decamped Texas band Lone Star .
But that was not all - we soon had a thin man, maybe Young's drummer, dressed as Spiderman shadow boxing and dancing with his much larger stage companions.
This was the entire package - audio and visual entertainment with ever growing momentum and seemingly limitless energy.
It was time to emulate the giant in the kilt's tee shirt as the orchestra launched into Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy ).
That wasn't all - Cowboy Troy re-joined for Big Butts, Give it Away.
There was also two encores - Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich ) and Like It Loud.
With an optical appointment in the forenoon of the following day I'll do my best to report costume changes.
One of his guitars had a simple message - Yee Haw or was it Hee Haw ?
There was a predictable shower of guitar picks from the stage - as a bonus Big Kenny discarded a collection of towels.
This was not your normal country concert - on the Richter scale it flew way off the charts but the music was audible, inspired and irresistible.
It's easy to judge it the best entertainment show of the young year - and maybe decade.
Now The Mavericks and Zac Brown Band have a salient yardstick to surpass - on a musical level.
Review by David Dawson with photos by Carol Taylor