(Originally published on Blogcritics.org)
Surprise! This ain’t your mama’s country music. On August 14, 2014, Thompson Square shook the walls at Toby Keith’s I Love the Bar and Grill in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
Their two big hits, “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” and “If I Didn’t Have You”, set me up to expect an evening of melodic ballads and sweet romantic banter. When the roadies turned on the smoke machine and uncovered the lights, I began to suspect I might see something different.
With a few exceptions, this was a hard rock Thursday. Blazing guitars, mega drum solos and no holds barred singing gave the audience a concert to remember. And the attitude was crazy. The banter was R-rated and several times the band went into a chant – joined by the audience – of “Shot, shot, shot.” This was followed by onstage demonstrations of what you are supposed to do with a Kamikaze or a Sex on the Beach. My ears didn’t stop ringing for a couple of hours afterward.
Husband and wife Keifer and Shawna Thompson saved their signature song – “Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not” – for the encore. Before giving the audience that special song they came for, Keifer, in the lowest voice he could muster, asked the audience, “Do you like Johnny Cash?” The audience roared and the couple went into a spirited rendition of “Jackson.” I don’t usually sing along at concerts, but in this case, I joined the lady next to me – from Glasgow, Scotland of all places – and belted out this standard with everyone else.
The duo’s opening act was singer/songwriter Katie Armiger. She is an old-school, low-tech ying to Thompson Square’s yang. Armiger sang mostly her own very traditional-sounding country compositions. What I enjoyed most, however, was when she sang two songs made famous by others – Patsy Cline (“Sweet Dreams”) and Stevie Nicks (“Go Your Own Way”). In her own songs, it seemed that the singer held back, but in these two, the full range of her voice came through impressively. She should challenge herself more.
Armiger’s fiddle player, Erin Slaver, was a show in herself. There’s a song that says, “If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.” If you gotta have a fiddle, it should be played by the energetic, talented and pretty Erin Slaver.
It was standing room only in Toby Keith’s. From when I got there at 7:15 p.m. until I left at 12:15 a.m., my tush never got more support than a wall, which I gave up early so I could be in the first row by the stage. Although, next time I will remember not to stand under the ceiling-mounted speakers. Despite the long time on my feet, this was a great bargain of a concert – hours of entertainment for only $27 advance purchase.
The venue, converted several years ago from a furniture store, has plentiful parking and sits on the edge of a pseudo-old downtown shopping center, Victoria Gardens. It’s worth a visit if you find yourself in SoCal.
Thompson Square, you surprised me, but in a good way. Country-rock on!