Brantley Gilbert hit the Sprint Center stage with guns ablazing Saturday night.
Before his entrance, the video screen at the back of the stage showed black-and-white footage of Gilbert, his five-man band and an array of images: tattooed body parts, motorcycles, wallet chains and other accessories, like a promo for “Sons of Anarchy.”
Then the large white screen at the front of the stage fell, unveiling the band and Gilbert, who wielded his microphone the way the Lone Ranger wields a six-shooter — spinning it on his finger — and they all lit into “Kick It in the Sticks,” one of several head-banging rock anthems that filled the 90-minute set.
Gilbert, 29, is a native northern Georgian who is proud of his rural Southern heritage. Thus, he writes songs like “Sticks,” an homage to his hillbilly home, where good ol’ boys like to “pop a top and drop a tailgate” and crank up the “AC/DC, Hank, Skynyrd and George Jones.”
And that’s pretty much what Gilbert’s music sounds like, if you drop the George Jones and assume Hank means Hank Jr. Most of it is heavy rock, some of it heavier and more thunderous than AC/DC’s. The intro to “Small Town Throwdown” was as thrashing and loud as a Slayer song.
His topics are primal and few. In “One Hell of an Amen,” he paid respect to those in the military. In “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” he sings about love. In “My Kind of Crazy” and “My Baby’s Guns N’ Roses,” he sings about his girlfriend, who’s as “hot as a barrel on a 12-gauge sawed-off.”
Before that one, his band played the intro to Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” which fit in seamlessly with Gilbert’s own music. So did other intros, which sampled bands like Metallica and Motley Crue.
Typically, however, Gilbert sings about partying, fighting, the backwoods life and its long-standing heritage and rituals, usually with machismo and bravado and at high volume. Throughout the set, his voice had trouble emerging clearly from the tide of guitars and percussion surrounding it.
The Sprint Center was set up for a crowd of about 7,500 or so, and most of those seats were filled. The place was crackling all night with excitement over the Kansas City Royals. After his first song, Gilbert announced the score was 4-2 for the boys in blue. He said he’d keep everyone updated, but he didn’t, which turned out to be for the best. Late in the show he put on a Royals jersey, setting off a loud “Let’s go, Royals” chant.
The crowd was equally as stoked by his macho posturing during songs like “Small Town Throwdown,” about beating somebody up in a parking lot fight, and “Read Me My Rights,” a molten anthem about justified violence (when a man hits a woman; when an intruder is in your home).
The set list also included two songs Gilbert is best-known for, both of which became No. 1 country hits for Jason Aldean: “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” On that one, he was joined by Aaron Lewis, one of his openers.
Gilbert finished with “Country Must Be Country Wide,” yet another paean to the country life, which, Gilbert sings, springs from the heart, not where you live geographically: “In every state there's a station / Playing Cash, Hank, Willie and Waylon.” If only there were more of that in modern country radio.
Aaron Lewis: He wasn’t officially a co-headliner, but judging by the crowd’s reaction it felt like he was. The lead singer of the alt-metal band is carving out his own country niche and succeeding because he knows what buttons to push. His set started with Lewis, like a drill sergeant, ordering everyone to stand up (his command included an f-bomb) while he recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
He then launched into a set that dovetailed with Gilbert’s: heavy guitar anthems (some with a light country accent) with titles like “Country Boy,” “Rednecks North of the Mason Dixon Line,” “Grandaddy’s Gun” and “That Ain’t Country.” He closed with Staind’s biggest hit, “It’s Been Awhile.”
Gilbert set list
Kick It in the Sticks; Hell on Wheels; My Kinda Party; If You Want a Bad Boy; You Don’t Know Her Like I Do; My Baby’s Guns N’ Roses; Dirt Road Anthem; Grown Ass Man; My Kind of Crazy; One Hell of an Amen; Bottoms Up; Take It Outside; Small Town Throwdown; Lights of My Hometown; Read Me My Rights. Encore: Country Must Be Country Wide.