Luke Bryan — Gulp — Delights a Packed House in The Woodlands

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Luke Bryan, Little Big Town
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
October 20, 2016

I’m not a fan of the bro-country movement. I far prefer the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Cody Jinks to the likes of Hunter Hayes and Sam Hunt. I’m not sure rap and country, despite being a fan of each genre, are a good mix. And I kinda wish my country musicians wore cowboy hats.

In short, I really didn’t want to like the Luke Bryan show at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Thursday. But damn if that Bryan didn’t go and entertain me anyway.

Bryan, playing before one of the more eclectic sold-out crowds you’ll find in Texas, blared through a 110-minute set that featured covers, up-tempo originals and slowed-down ballads. The crowd, including a capacity lawn audience, were with him every step of the way.

Look, Bryan is essentially the Drake of country music. He’s cheesy, but he kinda embraces it. Plus, both can get away with it, since anything Bryan or Drake puts out pretty much turns to gold. As the old adage goes, winners get to do whatever they want.

Bryan began his nearly two-hour set with hit single “Rain Is a Good Thing,” one of his many odes to good timing and hooking up. He gyrated. He turned his hat backwards. He purred for the ladies in the audience, who easily outnumbered the fellas in the crowd ten to 1. This was not lost on Bryan.

“Guys, we teed it up for you tonight,” Bryan said. “If you can’t hook up here, we can’t help you.”

That was one of many quips and one-liners spouted by Bryan on Thursday night as part of his Kill the Lights Tour. And that’s where I came to appreciate him, despite not being a fan of much of the man’s catalog.

Like Garth Brooks before him, Bryan is a born entertainer (he’s the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year). He banters with the crowd. He jams with his six-piece band and generally puts on a lively show, one equipped with smoke and a light show. Remind you of a certain '90s country-pop crossover king?

Plus, Bryan has logged 15 No. 1 country singles during his reign atop the country mountain, so he’s got plenty to pull from during his live show. On this particular night, that included crowd-pleasers such as “Drunk on You,” “Roller Coaster” and “Crash My Party.” The highlight of the evening was Bryan’s performance of the true-to-life ballad “Drink a Beer,” about as perfect a country song as one can write (Chris Stapleton wrote the track).

He saved room for covers as well, including George Strait’s “Unwound” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.” The latter featured openers Little Big Town, who joined Bryan for a pair of celebratory tequila shots. Hey, it was Little Big Town member Jimi Westbrook’s birthday!

Look, Bryan isn’t Sturgill Simpson or Chris Stapleton, but he doesn’t aspire to be. Simply put, dude is more a modern-day Kenny Chesney, a pop-country hitmaker whose live show feels more like a party than a concert. He gives paying customers what they want. As far as Thursday night went, that meant a rollicking good time chock-full of pop-country hits and lively banter.

So, How Was the Opener? Didn’t make it in time for Dustin Lynch (Woodlands traffic is unpleasant), but did make it out in time to catch some of Little Big Town. Having seen them open for George Strait nearly a decade ago in Austin, when they covered Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” I always expected them to become a bigger deal and eventually headline their own arena and amphitheater tours. Of course, opening for arguably the biggest act in country music today isn’t a bad consolation prize.

Random Notebook Dump: I’ve never seen a crowd so diverse. Young folks. Old folks. A diverse array of races and wardrobe choices. But they all came for one reason – to sing along to Luke Bryan songs. Sometimes, music does exactly as it’s intended – it brings folks together. This includes the plus-1, who loves herself some bro-country. She knew every word on Thursday night, as many others did.

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