Saturday night’s show at the Midland theater was a microcosm of modern country music, a genre dominated by men, many of them singing about girls, cars and parties.
Dan Smyers and Shay Mooney were the headliners. They go by Dan + Shay, and like much of what is on the country radio charts, their music has little to do with country traditions and more to do with rock, pop and male swagger.
About 800 people attended, not a big crowd, even for a duo on its inaugural headlining tour. But they delivered a high-energy show that featured several covers, including songs by Journey and Def Leppard.
Smyers, who wore a tank top that revealed his body-builder physique, was the more demonstrative of the two, acting at times like a male cheerleader as he exhorted the crowd to turn the room into the kind of party they like to sing about.
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They opened with “Somewhere Only We Know,” an anthem about hopping in a pickup truck with a gal, heading out to a place “40 miles off the map” and fogging up the windows while Tom Petty plays on the radio.
They followed that with “Nothin’ Like You,” a devotional from a guy to the girl he’s smitten with, then “Stop Drop + Roll” (Dan + Shay like the addition sign), an anthem about hopping into a ’65 Mustang with a gal and taking a sweet ride down the interstate with the top down and the radio on loud. Then came “Parking Brake,” another anthem about a girl, a two-toned Ford, a remote place by a river’s bank.
When you have only one album in your catalog, covers can help fill a 75-minute headlining set, and Dan + Shay pulled out several Saturday night. Journey’s “Any Way You Want It” was the first, and it aroused one of the loudest singalongs of the night. Straight-up versions of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud,” Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and Brooks & Dunn’s “Red Dirt Road” also stirred the mood.
Then it was back to songs about cars, parties and girls, like “Party Girl,” in which “all them boys are spraying down and shining their wheels / And all them girls are getting pretty, putting on heels.”
Though most of their songs are bereft of any lyrical savvy or heft, they are consistently melodic and rife with rock hooks and often some keen harmonies. They fit right in with the music of Rascal Flatts, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and others, music that wears a baseball cap backward, not a cowboy hat.
They closed with “Can’t Say No,” a song about a guy smitten with a girl who “knows how to work them cut off things,” then their first hit single, “19 You + Me,” a song about a summer romance in Myrtle Beach. The crowd went bonkers for that one.
The term “bro country” was coined to describe this flavor of county music, which dominates the charts. It is either a pejorative or an acclaim, depending on your perspective, but Dan + Shay and their crowd clearly wear it like a badge of honor.