During his live shows, Luke Bryan doesn’t bother with subtleties. He pulls no punches, holds no cards close to his vest.
He’s 41, married, the father of three children and a devoted philanthropist, but when he takes the stage, as he did Friday night at the Sprint Center, he makes it immediately and abundantly clear what his mission is: take his crowd to a place where what matters for the moment is having a good time (drink!), indulging in and expressing your libido and sexuality and, along the way, acknowledging a few moments of love, heartache, failure, disappointment and grief.
Friday night, Bryan drew a crowd of nearly 13,000 to the downtown arena, where he and his seven-piece band spent about 110 minutes raining upon the big, happy crowd a mostly carefree, spring-break vibe, a prolonged moment of escapism.
He opened with “Move,” a heavy-country/rock song with rapid-fire lyrics (lots of “legs,” “lips,” “hips”) about a “Yankee” gal who moves down South and finds her rebel (sexual) groove, which prompts the singer to proclaim: “ You got me where you want me, where I wanna be / All up in the middle of your left and right.” Even his innuendos are explicit.
Next came “That’s My Kind of Night,” a song that, as much as any other, epitomizes what has become known as bro’ country. It’s a rock song that issues a blitzkrieg of country clichés and signifiers (beers, skirts, boots, a jacked-up truck, corn rows, a catfish dinner), most notably the verse that expresses musical diversity: “Might sit down on my diamond-plate tailgate / Put in my country ride hip-hop mixtape / Little Conway, a little T-Pain / Just might make it rain.”
Bryan dresses the part he plays on stage: jeans, a T-shirt and a baseball cap worn both frontward and backward or not at all. He looked like the guy who might show up on your porch one morning to give you a quote on a landscaping job. But he’s a country superstar, one who appeals equally to both genders and to a couple or three generations.
He is a superstar despite much of his music, which is formulaic and often repetitive, even in its most clever moments, like the song “Rain Is Good,” which started off like an homage to rural life and the importance of precipitation to a farmer but soon swerved into another focus: “Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey / Whiskey makes my baby feel a little frisky.”
Nonetheless, the crowd indulged all night, singing along and responding to the impressive light and visual shows. Bryan is very at-ease on stage. He played the Kansas-Missouri rivalry perfectly during “Play It Again,” kicking his native Georgia out of the verse and substituting “Kansas” and then “Missouri,” which prompted the usual fits of hysteria from a crowd that loves to hear its city or state referenced in a song.
During “All My Friends Say,” he pulled cans of beer from a cooler emblazoned with an American flag and tossed them into the crowd. He also shared shots of tequila with a couple of teachers who had identified themselves earlier as he asked the crowd to give a hand to members of the military, first-responders and then teachers.
Late in the show, Bryan took a seat at a piano that sat towards the end of a satellite stage and his band gathered around him and then joined him in a very rowdy and sturdy cover of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” Two songs later, he delivered a solo acoustic version of “Drink a Beer,” a lament about death and loss from a guy who has suffered plenty of it, including two siblings.
He followed that with the title track to this tour, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day,” an anthem that addresses the fundamentals of hardcore bro-country: the outdoors, trucks, God, whiskey and women. At the end of that song, Bryan showed off his guitar skills, indulging in a fiery jam with his banjo player.
They closed with one of his biggest hits, which is also one of his most clichéd, “Girl (Shake It For Me).” It’s way more pop/hair metal than country. It name checks tractors, trucks and the Georgia mud and throws in corny lines like “Spin me around in this big ol’ barn / Tangle me up like grandma’s yarn.” Nonetheless, its explicit intent wasn’t lost and the song gave the big crowd one more chance to let Bryan know they were buying all that he was selling.
Move; That’s My Kind of Night; Kick the Dust Up; Rain Is a Good Thing; This Is How We Roll; Crash My Party; I See You; Fast; Drunk On You; Roller Coaster; All My Friends Say; Country Man; Play It Again; Mountain Music; Strip It Down; Drink a Beer; Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day; I Don’t Want This Night to End; Country Girl (Shake It For Me).