Kenny Chesney's stand-alone encore "Don't Blink" tellingly capped his strong 20-song set Saturday night before a sell-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field.
After a long program of five acts that began with Lady Antebellum at 4 p.m., the hugely popular country megastar offered 50,000 listeners an observation and a recommendation: Life's fleeting, so keep your eyes open and take it all in.
That thesis of living now and looking back thoughtfully is a recurring theme in many of Chesney's well-tooled hit songs - "There Goes My Life," "I Go Back," and "Back Where I Come From" played Saturday. Perhaps it is the true source of his appeal, far deeper than his good-timey, beachy-cowboy image as a Nashville version of Jimmy Buffett might suggest.
Ascendant country-popsters Sugarland proved the more celebratory act. Earlier in the evening, they presented a winning hour powered by vocalist Jennifer Nettles, who was, hands down, Saturday's best singer. With body english to match, she swayed through a great cover-spree in the middle of their "Everyday America," including the Emotions' "Best of My Love," Madonna's "Holiday," Nelly's "Hot in Herre," and in a stated tribute, Michael Jackson's "Rock With You."
Sugarland's sweet showing effectively eliminated the bad taste left from Montgomery Gentry's preceding set. The veteran duo (and ham-fisted backing band), led by a leering, mike-stand-spinning Eddie Montgomery and singer-guitarist Troy Gentry, delivered a cliche-ridden packaging of their hits from 1999's "Hillbilly Shoes" onward. What's worse than a suspect lyrical couplet like "My old truck's still running good/ My tickers tickin' like they say it should" (from their 2007 Hot Country chart-topper "Lucky Man")? What's worse is not selling it - something they did repeatedly with their largely artless songs and in perfunctory salutes to the troops, etc. Even their cover selection was rote, overblown, lame: the hoary Kiss party anthem "Rock and Roll All Nite." Boo.
Rising country star Miranda Lambert's choice of quality covers, on the other hand, shored up her 40-minute set nicely. The spunky blond Texan cranked through an extended introduce-my-band version of the Faces' 1971 rocker "Stay With Me," offering with slippery lap steel slide guitar that put the song's subtle country & western feel in focus. Lambert is no Rod Stewart, but her thin delivery brought the rock, also evident on a frisky read of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Travelin' Band" and on the Joan Jett hit "I Love Rock 'n Roll." Her third album, Revolution, will not be out until late September so her cover-heavy program made sense. Her recently released first single, "Dead Flowers," is her own autobiographical love-lorn ballad, not the Rolling Stones' 1971 country-vamp classic. She ably highlighted material from her critically acclaimed breakthrough album, 2007's Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, including the reflective "Famous in a Small Town" and the bad-men-beware "Gunpowder & Lead."