TAMPA — First, Al and Tipper. Now, Brooks and Dunn. Why should the rest of us even bother to attempt normal relationships when history's Great Love Affairs are crumbling? I knew I should have married that dancer from Reno.
When country kings Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, the most successful duo of any genre in the SoundScan era, announced they were splitting after 20 years and just as many No. 1s, fans reacted a la kids with divorcing parents.
What? Huh? How could they do this to us?
So you knew it was going to be a lumpy-throated night Friday when Brooks, 55, and Dunn, 57, brought their two-hour Last Rodeo show to the newly christened, and very sold-out, 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre, which, I must say, is an absolute pleasure to type on deadline.
(Let's just get this out of the way, okay? Last week, when I heard that the Ford Amphitheatre was getting a new name, I predicted it would be called the Hooters House of Rock. People gasped. Sounds pretty regal now, doesn't it?)
After a near-metallic opening set by likable bad boy Jason Aldean (his cover of Kid Rock's "Cowboy" was particularly raucous), the beloved headliners took the stage to bid adieu, all 20,000 barely dressed fans applauding in salute.
Standing shoulder to shoulder -- long, tall famously hatless Dunn at the mike; stout behatted prankster Brooks blowing a harmonica -- they opened with "Play Something Country," the volume jacked for maximum freak-out.
Brooks & Dunn don't do anything fancy, and they're regular-looking joes for sure. With the exception of a giant steer skull hanging overhead and a few video screens, even their stage was blue-collar. But therein lies the appeal. B&D's hook-driven songs are all about real love, authentic boot-scootin' and, as they put, dreaming in red, white and blue.
Backed by a 10-piece band, they let the music do all the work -- "You Can't Take the Honky Tonk Out of the Girl," "Put a Girl In it," "Ain't Nothing "Bout You" -- and isn't that refreshing in this day and age?
Complaining of a sore throat, Dunn did his best, fading on a few vocals, apologizing throughout, and leaning on his partner more that usual. But with that rich, twangy voice, he still uncorked several beauties, including the gospel-tinged "Believe," the catchy "My Maria" and, toward the end, the anthemic "Only in America." And he had the whole place bawling with quiet heart-stomper "It's Getting Better All the Time."
Brooks is usually more comfortable cutting up the crowd, but Dunn also had the best line of the night: "I'm going to tell you why Brooks & Dunn are breaking up. "Cause I didn't get to wear the hat! I've been bitter for 20 years."
I don't believe for a second that this is the last time we'll see Mssrs. Brooks and Dunn together onstage in Tampa. After all, ladies and gentlemen, how can anyone resist coming to play "the GARY"?! (Sigh. I'm trying. I really am.)
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.