No Shoes Nation brought Chesney experience to life at Hard Rock

Bob Catalano, Daniel Wray

Dedicated to chart topping country music star Kenny Chesney, No Shoes Nation is a tribute band on a roll. This act shines because of the professional musicians who render the songs in fine, emotive, energetic detail and the atmosphere created by their enthusiastic audiences. Last Saturday night’s show at the Hard Rock Café in Boston, Massachusetts clearly illustrated both qualities coming together to create one fine evening.

Opening song “Reality” spread the band’s talents wide. Lead singer Daniel Wray sang with a macho delivery and a chirpy timbre. Lead guitarist Rick Risti played a wonderful phrase that stretched out like a banner. That wideness of sound combined with the live audiences heart felt reception made one feel like it was an event, not just a bunch of guys playing in a bar.

“Summertime” found Risti seeming to coax the melodic phrase out of thin air, an arcing melody that gave Wray a bright platform to bounce his amicable croon off of. This singer has a way of making his vocal feel like a buoyant wave as well something that coats gold over all of Chesney’s lyrics. Created was a joyful feeling for the audience to react to with dancing, cheering, and whatever else filled the Hard Rock with a celebratory glee.

Leo Melanson

After the first two number it was clear that this band does not just get the Chesney songs right. This band makes people feel happy as one collective audience, strangers brought together by the allure of good cheer. “Til It’s Gone” was another No Shoes nation finessed with a Chesney kind of charm. Wray’s vocal traveled breezily over Risti’s brittle notes to build another momentum.

Risti’s lead guitar line purred with tender urgency on “Don’t Blink,” a number that tasked Wray with keeping the warm pace on just this side of tenderness. Wray draws the audience gently toward the chorus, an anthem that makes one feel respect and appreciation for family life, his handsome vocal making one feel what this tune is all about.

“Don’t Happen Twice” offered Leo Melanson’s purty pedal steel twang, a melody line that sweetened this mid-tempo dandy. Harmony vocals also widened the sound, making it feel like an embrace. Larry Novak’s simmering organ chords gave it more spirit, and Wray carried it home with a smooth vocal.

Wray’s assertive acoustic guitar work provided a nice slapping motion behind “American Kids.” Meanwhile, his voice skipped well throughout the snappy chorus. Watching the audience members sing along to this joyful ode to growing up in America was as much of the fun as following what the band was doing. Everyone there loved singing out “Growin’ up in little pink houses/Makin’ out on living room couches/Blowin’ that smoke on a Saturday night/A little messed up, but we’re all alright.”

Likewise, the lyrical references to the summer carnival in “Anything But Mine” was another high moment for the band to connect to its Hard Rock crowd. This theme of life in the heartland felt real when Risti’s lead guitar phrase went out wide to lasso in everyone in the house with its bright, shiny tone. Wray’s gentlemanly croon seem to inspire dancing as much as the rhythm section of bass man Bob Catalano and drummer Lenny Shea,

Larry Novak

Feeling like a forlorn message amidst the din, “Noise” came across well as Wray sang it out with a slightly plaintive tone. Rocking guitar rang out the frustration of the Tennessee boy and the whole thing moved forward with a modern rock charge and southern country swoop. “How Forever Feels” let Melanson showcase more of his instrumental skills before the southern rock feel of “Pirate Flag” let him do his thing on mandolin, tiny, brittle notes that shined like crazy amidst the twisty turns in the rhythm. And talk about audience participation, one fan was waving the band’s black and white No Shoes Nation Band flag.

Melanson’s swiftly picked pedal steel notes flavored “She’s Got It All” with shiny, twangy little bits of sound. After dedicating “Boys Of Fall” to the New England Patriots, No Shoes Nation Band went into that sweeping, lilting number about growing up in a football town Wray’s considerate vocal allowed a puff of emotion in each verse, the guitars and piano notes, meanwhile, fell like a soft rain, landing on the listener’s sweet spot.

The rhythm section kept “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” bouncy, percussive fun, a groove that worked well with shards of lead guitar and twangy bright pedal steel. A local favorite, “Boston,” about the girl with the Red Sox cap, went over well. Its pop charm, warm vocal, and elegant guitar work each adding something special to this softly catchy tune.

Daniel Wray

Daniel Wray closed out the first set all by his own self, playing a mighty acoustic guitar to “Old Blues Chair.” Boy, did that voice, guitar, and message carry well in the wide open space of the Hard Rock’s music lounge.

Melanson got a nice country twang out of the pedal steel on “No Shoes No Shirt No Problem,” a sweet number that found a good home amidst dancing fans who sang out the chorus. The audience choral seem to inspired Wray to send his voice booming out over the easy going theme underlying this pretty, mid tempo number.

An electric guitar bleeding its emotive inspiration lead into “Somewhere With You,” a sad long of loss and longing complete with a twisty chorus and a feeling that feels like it will never end. More modern rock than country, it was a nice addition to the show. The unwieldy tune “Bar At The End Of The World” had more rock guitar influences, organ swirls, and a chugging groove that kept many fans moving their feet.

“There Goes My Life” was a popular with the crowd slow dance number with Saturday night’s crowd. Wray’s mellow vocal made the song connect with the audience, based on how many were singing along with bright smiles and a few wiping their eyes.

Getting back into more upbeat territory, No Shoes went into “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” Melanson got to whip up a whistling fiddle melody beside a frisky lead guitar phrase. Wray pulled all of the friendly quirkiness out of this song with understated delivery. Novack’s honky tonk piano tinkling and the tune’s shuffling two step kept this one firmly rooted in classic country as the band rocked things up.

Bob Catalano

No Shoes next turned in an energetic rendition of “Big Star.” Wray sang out beautifully during this ironic study of a rising singing star from a small town, injecting it with warmth as it traveled the lyrical territory of fame and fortune. Moving onto “All The Pretty Girls” kept things rocking. Risti’s lead guitar seemed to keep reaching new heights of fun, whipping out chord after chord.

The rushing fun vocals of “Beer In Mexico” moved the song through its large waves of guitar and groove, a crowd favorite injected with many highs.

The band closed with “Out Last Night,” a pop country charmer in which slivers of organ, a peppy rhythm section, and an arcing lead vocal came together in a sweet connection of fun. It was also a fine farewell for now from the band to their fans.

No Shoes Nation have turned their high caliber musical talents and their love for this music and adoration of their fans into one fine evening. Going to see this country tribute band isn’t just about the music. It’s a special event where happy, friendly people come out to meet and sing and dance with other happy, friendly people. It’s not just good music. It’s a guaranteed good time. Their next few gigs will be at:

Friday April 26th BREAKAWAY, Danvers, MA
Saturday May, 4th POOR RICHARD’S, Chicopee, MA
Saturday May 18th STUMBLE INN, Londonderry, NH

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