CORRECTION: Billy Currington’s dog, Paco, who joined the country singer on stage Thursday at Salem Civic Center, is a chocolate Labrador retriever. The dog’s color was reported incorrectly in a Friday review of the concert.
By Tad Dickens | 777-647
Through the early part of his first-ever headlining set in the Roanoke Valley, Billy Currington seemed to be doing everything by the book.
He started out with “That’s How Country Boys Roll” and “I Wanna Be A Hillbilly,” uniting the Salem Civic Center audience of 2,891 with some familiar party-sparkers. Currington followed that up with one of his country-soul numbers, “I Got A Feelin’ ” before launching one of his trademark numbers, “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer.”
It all felt pretty good and familiar, and the crowd was into it, singing along and screaming as Currington connected with different sections of the room. He changed up a bit later, playing “Like It Never Happened,” a song that will be on his next album. Judging by the number of cellphones recording it, he’s got a winner on his hands.
But then, just when it seemed like your typical new country show from a rising star, he nearly let his dog steal the show.
Currington called on his good friend Paco, who has been road-dogging it with him. The black Labrador-looking fellow sprang onstage, tail flopping, as Currington gave him a treat and kicked into “Like My Dog.”
Currington sang about the comparatively uncomplicated nature of a canine’s unconditional love as Paco ran around the stage, visiting everyone in the six-piece band before setting his paws up on the drum riser and snagging a plastic water bottle in his jaws. He pranced over to Currington, lay down and began chewing at the bottle, creating a nice leak.
The crowd went nuts. Currington has played this song before, during opening sets for other acts at Roanoke Civic Center, but it was never that memorable. This time, the folks who heard and saw it will always remember.
Currington and his band played plenty of crowd-pleasers — “People Are Crazy,” “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” and Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition.” He worked the crowd like the seasoned pro he is, and let his band show their chops. In another rarity, he even let his bass player have a solo.
But he had other tricks, too. He hosted a Facebook contest before the show to pick a woman to help him out on “Party of Two,” a song he sang with Shania Twain. He chose a woman he introduced as Danielle, and she did a decent job of it. Just another way to make the fans part of the experience. Pretty smart.
Opening acts David Nail and Kip Moore should be taking notes. Much of their music seemed like Keith Urban/Dan Huff factory seconds, though Nail’s “Let It Rain” and “Sound of a Million Dreams” came off nicely, aided deeply by Nail’s outstanding vocals.
Web bonus info, because 15 column inches are never enough: Nail is a smooth singer with fine range and a lot of feeling. His songs tend toward pop and soul, which made his cover of Waylon Jennings’ “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” come off ironic. Not that Nail and his band didn’t wail on it. But no sir, Hank would most definitely not have done it that way. In fact, if you were to summon up Williams’ body and spirit, and send him on the road doing the songs he did in his day as though they were brand new, he would be drawing 50 to 75 at Martin’s Downtown.
At any rate, the crowd seemed to dig both nail and first-on-the-bill Moore. They’ve both had hits recently, with Nail’s “Let It Rain” going to No. 1.
Moore’s first claim to fame is his his top 10 country hit single, “Somethin’ Bout A Truck,” and he deserves an asterisk on that one. Why? Because it has the word “truck” in it and a ZZ Top-style guitar riff, so you know it’s going to wind up in the country chart. But the women loved him, screaming as he sat on the catwalk and sang a new one, “Hey Pretty Girl.”