FOXBOROUGH — If there is one thing that Kenny Chesney’s performance Friday night made clear, it is that he has a special connection to Boston, and in particular to Gillette Stadium. It’s a connection that has been forged through many visits; as he announced early on in his show (the first of two he did this weekend as the New England Country Music Festival headliner) it was the 10th time he has played there, more than any other stadium.
That connection was something he kept coming back to. He noted that “no shoes nation,” the epithet that his fans now go by (and the name of his current tour), originated at Gillette. He prefaced his performance of “Boston” — a song, he pointed out, that he only plays when he’s in Boston — with an understated but genuine tribute to the victims of the Marathon bombings (and then swapped out his trademark cowboy hat for a Boston Strong ball cap that remained in place for the rest of show). On three occasions he even paused mid-song, abandoning his lyrical train to remark on the connection and to marvel at the crowd.
His visits to Gillette, he said — after singing his ode to the season, “Summertime” — have reached the status of being a summer tradition.
The lovefest that was this year’s addition to that tradition (a tradition that will have to wait at least a year to be renewed, as Chesney plans to take some time off from touring) brought few surprises. The singer played only two songs from his new record, “Life on a Rock;” the rest was standard-template Chesney set list.
He was his usual ball of energy in serving up his tropical cocktail of escape (a soaring “Reality,” a driving “Living in Fast Forward” and nostalgia trips (a “Young” that had the crowd yelling along, an “Anything But Mine” that had it crooning along). But at times, things dragged a bit; the quasi-autobiographical “Big Star” seemed particularly inert, and one of the singer’s signature songs, “When the Sun Goes Down,” lacked its usual jump. Perhaps it was end-of tour fatigue (the two Foxborough shows were the tour’s finale), but whatever the reason, on this Friday Chesney’s typical machine-like precision and drive showed occasional stutters.
Eric Church suffered no such afflictions. Church had the set-up slot in the concert’s lineup and he made the most of it, careening through a 75-minute set that ranged from the country metal of “I’m Getting’ Stoned” and “Keep On” to the high-test, shuffling country groove of “Jack Daniels” and a “Drink in My Hand” that (of course!) saw Church bringing the song to life with a beer in each of his. If Chesney was, for the most part, a well-oiled machine, Church was a jacked-up force.