Luke Bryan at The Woodlands, 9/19/2014
Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Luke Bryan, Lee Brice Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion September 19, 2014
Among the various forms of popular music, country seems to age the most gracefully. An old rapper can keep trying to put out new music, but it's often just kind of embarrassing. Old rockers stay out on the road playing the hits for the 27,000th time, but often it's just kind of pathetic. Old country singers usually just look like survivors.
From outlaws like Willie and Merle to the gods like Garth and Tim, older country guys command a certain amount of respect but country music is one of the few genres that is in love with its history. Every country singer wants to be part of the fabric of country-music history, whether it's for personal pride or just good business.
What then are we to think of the current crop of bro-country singers? How well will the weird but currently relevant mashup of country, rap and pop age? Or, 20 years from now, will a 58-year-old Luke Bryan still be asking country girls to shake it for him?
Maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's talk Luke Bryan 2014, the immensely entertaining showman who hit The Pavilion on Friday night.
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It's amazing what you can do with some really well-written songs and a winning personality. Luke Bryan doesn't put on the biggest show in the world in terms of production and he's not what you would call a larger-than-life personality, but the strength of his hooks and his "everyday guy" charm were enough to keep the show from feeling small.
While it's easy and understandable to lump Bryan in with the current crop of "bro country" artists we'll all look back at in ten years and wonder "why did we let this happen?," to his credit he at least does it well, when he indulges in that sound. But for every "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)" and "That's My Kinda Night" there's a "Rain is a Good Thing" or "Someone Else Calling You Baby," tracks that are more in line with what most folks think of when they think country music.
He switches between the two pretty effortlessly - look no further than his weird mashup of his own "I Don't Want This Night to End" with Taio Cruz's "Dynomite" - but he seems much more at home with the more "traditional" country songs in his set.
Sure, he knows how to do that one dance more where you shake your hips like you're an extra in Magic Mike, but other than that... well, let's just say he moves like what he is: a 38-year-old dad. A cool 38-year-old dad, but a 38-year-old dad who has trouble waving his arms like he just doesn't care.
And that's not a knock on him. You never feel like you're watching someone playing the role of Luke Bryan when you watch him onstage; he's not a Rick Ross-like figure, trying to reinvent himself to make money. He's just a guy who came in to success later in life who is making the most of his time on top while he can. That's not weird, that's awesome.
Bonus points to him for also being confident enough in his station in life that he's willing to legitimately share the stage with his opening act. A lot of performers invite the opener to get onstage to sing backup on a song, but Bryan let Lee Brice get up on stage to join him for a cover of the Eli Young Band's "Crazy Girl," which Brice co-wrote. It made for a nice amphitheater singalong, as you might imagine.
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Still, it's interesting to consider where Bryan will be 15 years from now. Will he still be asking country girls to shake it for him when he's 53? Will we be looking back at songs like "That's My Kinda Night" with the same "critical" eye we use to mock songs like "Nookie" today?
They're questions that don't seem necessary, but they are interesting because they get to the root of trying to reconcile the two sides of Bryan. On one hand you've got a guy who seems really excited to be in a position to be onstage and play a little "Amarillo by Morning," who is also the same guy partially responsible for one of the worst songs in recent memory, Florida Georgia Line's "This is How We Roll."
It's not exactly man having an angel and devil raging inside of him, but it's a fascinating duality all the same.
Bryan should enjoy his time on top. He should indulge in as many tossed beers as his stagehand can get to him, and he should lead as many loud singalongs as he wants. But he's probably going to be just fine. "Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye" and "Crash My Party" are songs that work now and should continue to work as long there are still people who appreciate a good bit of slide guitar.
Trends come and go, but good songs and winning personalities have staying power.
So, How Was the Opener? Lee Brice has gotten better since the last time I caught him live, and while I don't doubt he really feels his music, I find him to be a bit overdramatic on some of his tunes (looking at you, "I Drive Your Truck"). Someone needs to hold an "emote-off" with him and Meat Loaf. That would be amazing.
Personal Bias: My roommate knows that I'm not a particularly big fan of country music, so she was very surprised that I was singing along to so many of Bryan's songs. What can I say? "Crash My Party" is a legit great song.
The Crowd: The usual suspects for a summer country show at The Pavilion. Probably not the first time I've had to describe most of them.
Overheard In the Crowd: "People get real excited to walk diagonally across the street," said one of the cops doing traffic control outside the venue. It's true; every time people legally get to walk illegally across the street, they do so with a smile on their face.
Random Notebook Dump: Luke Bryan is one of the few human beings alive who would be less likable if he had abs.
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