It’s hard to believe that when Rascal Flatts emerged in 2000, the trio was quickly dismissed as a “country boy band” with a short shelf life.
Thirteen years, 28 top-10 country singles and seven stops at the i wireless Center in Moline later, Gary LeVox, Joe Don Rooney and Jay DeMarcus have established themselves among the elder statesmen of the genre.
Nowhere was that more evident than at the i wireless on Friday night. In front of a crowd of roughly 8,500, they showed more heart than they had in previous shows, while still keeping some of the flights of fancy to which their fans are attracted.
After the arena was dark, three circular curtains of lights were lowered onto the stage, with each of the trio eventually walking into his spot as the stage lights came up. (The lighting, some of the most inventive I’ve seen in any genre, continued through the night, most notably with a series of five large cubes that hovered over the stage.)
With an inordinate amount of open stage space, the three and their five-man band ran rampant throughout the performance, when they weren’t on a runway parallel to the audience or a short path that led the way.
From a seat immediately to the side of those stages, it was easy to see the band’s heart. Guitarist Rooney had rapport with a preschooler who had been hoisted up to the stage by his parents. Rooney returned several times to talk to the boy, signing his toy guitar and spending time talking when Rooney wasn’t playing.
Later in the night, LeVox focused on a young woman who was also at the front of the stage. He serenaded her through most of the band’s hit, “I’m Movin’ On.” At the beginning of the encore, LeVox began singing “What Hurts the Most,” went out in the audience — where he was not adequately lighted — held the girl’s hand and brought her up on stage. She flung out her arms to take in an arena full of cheering fans, gave high-fives to nearby audience members and eventually danced while LeVox sang. It was a hold-back-a-tear moment for many in the audience, or at least just me, and a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a fan.
After several subpar tour stops in previous years where the band seemed narcissistic and egotistical, this time the three were relaxed, humble and self-effacing. That was evident in the closer of the regular set, “Here’s to You,” a heartfelt tribute by the band to its fans. DeMarcus announced from the stage that this was the band’s seventh year in a row performing at the i wireless (not quite; after opening for Brooks & Dunn in 2003, they have headlined six times and missed a few years). Noting that Reba McEntire had the record with eight stops, DeMarcus vowed to see the audience again in 2014.
If Rascal Flatts was a pleasant change from previous performances, The Band Perry was almost a complete makeover. In the sibling trio’s fourth performance in the Quad-Cities in the past 15 months, they’ve broken out from their previous act, introducing several songs from their upcoming sophomore album, out in April.
Singer Kimberly Perry has become more of a take-command performer, and the three have even introduced some choreography. Neil Perry’s cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls,” a part of earlier concert incarnations, has taken a life of its own. And the band sneaked in songs from other genres, such as “I Will Always Love You,” “Some Nights” by fun., and the Beatles’ “A Little Help From My Friends” in the mix with their hits and some promising future album cuts.
Kristen Kelly, a 20-something Texas singer, opened the show with a set that included her two singles and a cover of the Eagles’ “Heartache Tonight.” She didn’t have a commanding stage presence — but then again neither did the acts on the bill when they made their first trips to the Quad-Cities.