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Wild Brilliance Reba Mcentire Gave The Arena Crowd An All-Out Performance With Plenty Of Style And Substance

Don Adair Correspondent

Reba McEntire Sunday, Dec. 10, at the Arena

Reba McEntire may be the current queen of country music, but she has bigger worlds to conquer.

Not content with being another in a series of dominant female country music singers, McEntire aspires to be a complete entertainer. Her show Sunday was more R&B revue than country concert, more Las Vegas extravaganza than back-porch pickup session.

She arrived onstage in a taxi, changed costumes 13 times, flew over the crowd in a wrought-iron cage and surrounded herself with videos, fireworks and state-of-the-art lights.

She brought an eight-piece band, three backup singers and a troupe of dancers. She acted and sang and danced on an elaborate stage more like a scaled-down Rolling Stones setup than anything else in country music.

McEntire even sang a duet with a incorporeal Vince Gill, who appeared on a giant video screen.

Unlike past years, though, when McEntire’s stage show felt like glitzy entertainment and not much more, her evolving act now has substance as well as style.

Bottom line, McEntire is a champion of the modern woman. If Tammy Wynette urged women to stand by their men, McEntire wants them to stand firm. She wants them to get educated, support each other and dissolve the notion that they need men to give their lives focus and purpose.

The brilliance of her message is two-fold: McEntire sees life as it really is - in shades of gray. In her world, good women die of AIDS (and not just through blood transfusions), take men from each other and wrestle with self-doubt. Survival is not always certain, let alone victory. Reality gives her credibility and lends poignance to her message.

Secondly, she is the kind of woman she urges others to be. Her overarching presence and multimillion corporation are the products of her own vision. She wouldn’t have either if she hadn’t left a marriage that was bad for her.

But McEntire’s grand design doesn’t stand in the way of a good time. There may have been tears - and applause - for her AIDS song, “His Name Was John,” but there was laughter, too. She was a wicked thing in “I Won’t Stand In Line” and a deft would-be starlet for “Act Naturally.”

And when she and singer Linda Davis flew over the crowd for the show-closing “Does He Love You,” the sell-out crowd went wild.

McEntire’s aspirations at this point may be bigger than country music, but with the other major radio formats locked into youth acts or oldies, country will remain her home for now. But this bold 30-year-old didn’t get where she is without having big ideas. Her big ideas could change entertainment the way they’ve changed country.

Wild is the operative word for the opening acts as well. Sunday was the last night of a 10-month tour, and openers Rhett Akins and Tracy Byrd both ended up on the receiving end of a barrage of silly string and cream pies.

Akins is another in a parade of clean-cut, handsome hat acts with a pocketful of well-crafted pop songs and a good voice. He’s the kind of guy who leaves you wondering if there’s room in country music for homely men.

Tracy Byrd is closer to the traditional mold. Not as pretty or as pop as Akins, he’s a more convincing performer, with a splendid baritone and a diverse approach that ranges from the authentic Texas swing of “You Lied To Me” to the two-step dance hall hit, “Watermelon Crawl.” He sang the latter, hilariously, through a face smeared with pie and a hair so full of silly string it resembled a wig.

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