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Review: Joe Nichols makes the Dallas Bull's clothes fall off




(This is the 21st entry in Soundcheck's summer concert series, The 50-50 Club. For previous entries, click here.)

Well, okay, technically no one got naked during Joe Nichols' concert Friday night at the Dallas Bull in Brandon. At least, not that I saw. Who knows what happened backstage?

But I did see plenty of croonin' and swoonin' at the front of the stage, as the country hunk grabbed the Bull by the horns for an hourlong set of Nashville hits.

I've been meaning to catch a concert at the Bull for some time now. Since the 30-year-old club moved into its sprawling, 31,000-square-foot digs in 2006, they've hosted concerts by artists like Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Jamey Johnson, Jake Owen and Pat Green, and folks like John Rich and Brooks and Dunn have been known to stop by and play after shows at the Ford Amphitheater.

In a way, it's a shame the Bull isn't a concert venue all the time. Because with a very decent concert capacity (2,165) and cool stage setup, you kind of wish the Bull could have concerts there every week, by artists of every genre.

But that's not likely to happen anytime soon. Country music, it seems, is a tough stink to wash off.

I mean that in the nicest possible way. I'm a fan of the Bull, and I like my fair share of country music. But whenever I tell people the Bull is a great bar, they can't seem to wrap their minds around the fact that it's about more than just country. They play pop and top 40, especially upstairs, and even at times on the main dance floor.

Example: When I showed up for Friday's show, the first line-dance song they played was the Fat Boys' Wipeout. I don't care what kind of club you run, if your DJ spins the Fat Boys, you've got a fan for life right here.

Several months, ago, I spent a few nights behind the scenes at the Dallas Bull for a big story on what it takes to operate the largest nightclub in Tampa Bay, and one of the largest in Florida*. At the time, I asked general manager Marty McIntosh (a former touring bassist with the Warren Brothers) if he'd ever consider opening the stage up to performers from other genres, and the answer was a polite but firm probably not.

I suppose I can't blame him. Not only is the Dallas Bull arguably Tampa Bay's most popular club, it's one of the great country bars anywhere in America, modeled after landmarks like Billy Bob's in Fort Worth and the Wildhorse in Nashville. It draws crowds of upwards of 3,000 on its busiest nights.

So while I would LOVE to see the Bull's stage opened up to touring alternative and rock bands, I understand this is probably not going to happen. For now, those artists will have to stick with the Ritz Ybor and Jannus Landing. The Bull is doing just fine sticking with country.

My review ticket came with a VIP neck lanyard that gave me access to the Bull's upper level, where sponsors and a few lucky fans noshed wings and cookies and had a bird's-eye view of the stage. I was pleasantly surprised to see this seat waiting for me up there:


Rest assured, though, I am no big shot. I left my VIP stool for a while to roam the lower level, and when I returned, some other VIPs had swapped my "reserved for" sign with theirs, which happened to be located behind a big fat pillar. Which meant my Very Important View suddenly changed to this:

Yep -- nothing but the best for old Uncle Soundcheck. Frowny face.

Joe Nichols (who is taller than you'd think) is indeed a handsome man. I suppose I'd compare him to a cross between Eric Bana and a young Bruce Campbell**. When he sneaked out from backstage to do a quick interview with WQYK, a group of young blondes gathered 'round for a peek.

This would be a theme throughout the evening. When the singer finally came onstage at about 10:40 p.m. -- to chants of "Joe F---in' Nichols!" -- all the pretty little sips of chardonnay in the front row were thrilled. And man, were they close to the action.

The Bull's stage is right up against the dance floor, meaning women could (and did) reach out and stroke Nichols' boots and denim. Two older women scribbled pleas for picks and autographs on his set lists. When Nichols sang at the mic stand, one girl's face was maybe two feet from his bedenimed crotch. She looked amazed.

I ended up watching most of the show from a catbird seat above and behind the stage, from which point I could see the faces of all the fans in the front couple of rows. When Nichols kneeled down at the foot of the stage during I'll Wait For You and Comin' Back in a Cadillac, man, you should have seen the blondes stretch out with their cameras:


To be fair, a lot of the guys seemed to like Nichols, too. One dude in a cowboy hat held up a lighter -- an actual lighter! -- during one of his songs. Others raised their coozied beer bottles and cell phone cams in admiration.

Nichols has a very old-school sound, sort of like George Jones or maybe Randy Travis, and for the most part his songs are the sensitive sort. Ballads The Impossible and She Only Smokes When She Drinks went over really well with the crowd. Believers reminded me of Bruce Hornsby.

I like my country a little more on the trashy side, though, and so I had a lot more fun during bouncy songs like Honky Tonk Girl, It Ain't No Crime, Let's Get Drunk and Fight*** and Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off****. Massive response to that last one.

My one quibble with the set: Nichols closed, somewhat weirdly, with a cover of John Mayer's Gravity, a bluesy, downtempo number that seemed to sap a little bit of the energy from the room. But he did sign a few autographs during the final part of the song, so all ended up being right with the world, at least in the minds of the starry-eyed honeys up front. 

After the hourlong concert, I stuck around to listen to Copperhead Road, which is only the best line dance song in the history of EVER, and watched Nichols' female fans beg for setlists and picks.

Fun show. I look forward to checking out another concert at the Bull sometime. Country music or no.


Next up in The 50-50 Club: Team Cybergeist, June 20, Bourbon Street, New Port Richey

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

* The owners apparently liked that story so much so that it's now mounted on a plaque and displayed in the Bull's lobby with its own personal spotlight. They even slapped a Budweiser logo on it. As a Guinness man, I feel a little conflicted about this.

** Having seen both Munich and Army of Darkness, I can tell you that this is a gentic mix that would no doubt kick a lot of ass.

*** One of the great country titles of all time.

**** Ditto.

[Last modified: Saturday, June 20, 2009 12:27pm]


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