Rapping Cowboy Confuses Union Square Passersby
The Neptunes of, um, something
Chevy All Access Tour Cowboy Troy + Gretchen Wilson + Big & Rich + Erika Jo Union Square Sepember 6-8, 2005
It must've sounded good at a marketing meeting: "Chevy invites you to spend a day in the country without leaving the city." But it might not actually be a financially good idea for a car company to spend incalculable amounts of money bringing some of the biggest stars in country music to play a series of free outdoor concerts in New York City, possibly the least country-music-friendly city in America. New York has no country music radio, so Chevy was forced to promote this thing by sending people in cowboy hats out to Times Square to hand out fliers and free calendars. I would be shocked if Chevrolet managed to sell one more automobile based on this stunt. Not that I'm complaining.
"I guess you guys aren't going to hear this next song, but it's the it's going to be the next single to radio," said a sheepish Erika Jo, the third-season winner of the USA network's American Idol ripoff Nashville Star. It was hard not to feel sorry for Erika Jo, doing her best to look perky and unfazed while performing to a small handful of bored passersby and three or four very vocal Nashville Star fans on Tuesday afternoon. As a live performer, she's a great TV star: big smile and impressive chops but no visible stage presence or sense of commitment to her work. Still, her voice is a pleasantly professional yip, and her songs are engaging little morsels of assembly-line Nashville candy-floss. She wasn't exactly convincing when she called her first New York show "a dream come true," but who could blame her?
The scene was different on Wednesday for Big & Rich's lunchtime show. Over the past year and a half, the duo has famously been working to explode Nashville's boundaries, throwing hair-metal guitars and disco calls and gay subtexts and one incredibly bad rapper on their huge, shiny, irresistible machine-songs, and that self-conscious iconoclasm plays a lot better in this town than the rote, cheerful professionalism that Nashville has turned into a science. And so Big & Rich didn't seem to have any problems with the idea of rocking a New York crowd, and they pulled out all the stops to prove it. They have something of the Scissor Sisters' campily theatrical flair, and so we got to see John Rich playing a flying-V guitar and Big Kenny rocking his trademark ridiculous top hat and "Love Everybody" T-shirt and a dancing Dr.-Seuss-hatted midget and a butt-rock guitar vs. country fiddle duel. And all that stuff was fun, but more importantly, they have amazing songs with huge, confident hooks and goofy singalong choruses, and they sing them with total conviction, matching their muscular baritones up with one another in these great two-part harmonies. And even better: there was actually something of a crowd there to see them, suburban housewives and possibly-drunk rednecks and flamboyantly gay faux-cowboys and a group who seemed to be on a field trip from a center for people with disabilities. At one point, John Rich yelled, "There are country music fans all over this city right now!" It wasn't hard to believe him. And then he smashed a guitar. And I got to walk ten blocks north of the Voice offices and hear them play my favorite single of last year for free in the middle of the day, so, I mean, shit.
Maybe it's all the love they've gotten from this newspaper, but Big & Rich seemed completely confident that they could play to a New York crowd and be secure in knowing that everyone would be on their side. Their protégé Gretchen Wilson, who played later that day, didn't seem so sure. She seemed coolly professional almost to the point of defiance, jutting out her jaw and smiling tightly, even though she had an even bigger crowd that Big & Rich. She even played a new song, "Politically Uncorrect," a celebration of proud conservatism that might endear her to fans of Toby Keith and Montgomery Gentry but probably won't win her too many friends up here. "I'm for the Bible and I'm for the flag," she sang, before climaxing with "this world's going nowhere I stand." (And it was a pretty great song, too.) She loosened up a bit after she didn't get the volley of boos she probably half-expected, even allowing herself to enjoy the crowd's singalong to "Redneck Woman." Still, I've rarely seen a performer so visibly conficted about the show she was playing, so obviously not having fun. I'd like to see her sometime in a situation where she knows that the crowd is behind her.
One of my favorite moments from Big & Rich's set came when they brought out the aforementioned incredibly bad rapper, Cowboy Troy, for his riotously goofy verse on "Rollin (The Ballad of Big & Rich)." Troy came out high-fiving, standing tall in the middle of the stage, fake-fighting Rich, clearly loving his brief second in the spotlight. When that brief second get stretched out to half an hour, though, problems start to arise, and Troy's solo set the next day had plenty of problems. The main problem: Troy is not a rapper in any way that anyone who likes rap would recognize. His lyrics are just ridonkulously bad, and I could go one quoting them for days (just one: "You're bouncing up and down like a kid on a see-saw / Steady grooving, word to your mee-maw"). He also has no idea what rappers do onstage: his straight-backed chest-puffed-out posture and crazy bow-legged duck-walk seem to come more from the Rock than from any actual rapper (and I think I read somewhere that Troy is a big wrestling fan, so this can't be a coincidence). And I've said this elsewhere before, but Troy is the whitest-sounding nonwhite rapper since E-40. (He's also, incredibly, the third rapper I've seen perform in a cowboy hat in just over a week, after Chingo Bling and Elephant Man.) Troy's show was worth it just for the utterly befuddled expressions on the face of a few passerby, but it wasn't anything I'd call, you know, good.
(I didn't see Blue County or Billy Currington. Sorry.) Voice review: Chuck Eddy on Big & Rich's Horse of a Different Color Voice review: Werner Trieschmann on Cowboy Troy's Loco Motive
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