Ben Stas for The Boston Globe
“That is the loudest I’ve ever heard anything in my life, right there,” Kenny Chesney exclaims to a rapturous crowd on “Live in No Shoes Nation,” the road-warrior country singer’s 30-track live album that comes out Friday. The bedlam developed during a run-through of Chesney’s nostalgia-tinged 2014 track “American Kids,” and the rowdy audience was in attendance at Gillette Stadium, where Chesney has played 17 times over the course of his career — and will add an 18th next August.
Chesney and Gillette have a particularly special bond; the pair of concerts he played there in August were the only stadium shows the ever-reliable draw took on in 2017. But “Live in No Shoes Nation” puts the bromance on full display. Of its 30 tracks, 11 were recorded at the Patriots’ home base in Foxborough, including a spirited 2013 version of the crunchy “When I See This Bar” where Chesney gets assistance from outlaw troubadour Eric Church, a 2016 take on the metal-edged look back “Young,” and the touching album closer “Happy on the Hey Now,” which was written about the Maine-born Kristi Hansen, who passed away in 2012 after suffering a brain aneurysm. (The version on the album is the song’s live debut, which took place in 2013.)
“Boston,” Chesney’s lilting 2005 ode to a Red Sox cap-wearing island dweller who escaped New England’s chill for the Caribbean, also gets some shine on this collection with a 2015 live version that ends with a breezy guitar solo and Chesney swearing that it’ll remain a New England exclusive. The swaggering “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven,” meanwhile, features a cameo from the Zac Brown Band, who toured with Chesney in 2011. Brown and his bandmates have since taken their act to the Boston area’s other open-air sports cathedral, headlining Fenway Park in 2016, but the chemistry between the fusion-minded Georgia outfit and Chesney still feels lively.
“Live in No Shoes Nation” is no hastily slapped-together collection of barely-dissimilar-from-the-studio-cut live versions. Chesney pored through more than 10 years’ worth of tapes to arrive at its 30-track setlist, and the record is sequenced and arranged with care; each song is shot through with touches that fully reveal Chesney’s bond with his audience — banter, gratitude, extended singalongs.
He evangelizes a breezy south-of-the-border vibe on tracks like the ragtag “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” and the bedheaded “Out Last Night,” an attitude that certainly attracts quite a few revelry-ready listeners. But other cuts on “Live in No Shoes Nation” showcase his songwriting skill and ability to cut to the emotional quick, even when he’s managing a party where attendance runs into the tens of thousands. The 2008 track “I’m Alive,” which is featured here in a 2011 performance at the storied Colorado amphitheater Red Rocks, is a plainly poetic ballad about gratitude; Chesney is accompanied by a gently droning organ and a lightly picked guitar, singing lyrics like “Breathin’ in and out’s a blessing can’t you see” with a knowing reverence. Similarly, “Big Star,” the story of a hard-working striver who goes from karaoke bars to becoming “Garth Brooks in a skirt,” gets a jolt of reality via a cameo by Taylor Swift, who embodies the biggest dreams sketched out by the song’s winking lyrics.
“This is why I do what I do, why we all work so hard, why we care, why we come here every single year,” Chesney says at the end of “American Kids,” as the Gillette crowd collectively screams itself hoarse. “Live in No Shoes Nation” is a travelogue of Chesney’s career that provides an overview of his concerts’ wide-ranging appeal while also saluting those attendees who have stood by him from the start.
Tickets for Chesney’s Aug. 24, 2018, show at Gillette Stadium, with Dierks Bentley, Brothers Osborne, and Brandon Lay, go on sale Friday.
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