Hunter Hayes often sounds like an inconsequential pipsqueak on his recordings. Saturday at the Sprint Center, he revealed a more muscular sound and a substantially bulked up physique for an audience of more than 4,000.
Since his first hit in 2011, Hayes, 23, has tended to more closely resemble a standout member of a high school glee club than an aspiring country star. While Hayes still possesses boyish looks and a pristine voice, his powerful two-hour performance indicated that he’s likely to make a successful transition from a guileless teen idol into an adult artist of merit.
Abetted by a capable band and an expansive stage set, Hayes demonstrated his talents as a guitarist, drummer and pianist when he wasn’t sprinting down either of two runways. He was constantly confronted with handmade signs. Although they bore heartfelt messages like “wanted: talented and dreamy boy that looks like you,” the placards were no match for the free plastic wristbands distributed to fans that illuminated the venue with spectacular synchronized light displays.
Although he gratefully acknowledged the role country radio programmers have played in his success, Hayes made no pretense of performing country music. A sole cover song — a tepid version of Train’s mild pop ditty “Hey, Soul Sister” — reflected his orientation. Hayes cheerfully revived his similarly lightweight songs like “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me,” but the evening’s best selections were more substantial.
“Somebody’s Heartbreak” was given a winning R&B treatment that was far superior to the cloying twang of the original version. “More Than I Should” was a convincing rocker in the vein of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. The loop effects on a solo version of “If It’s Just Me” showcased another impressive component of his talent.
While Hayes’ artistic growth is encouraging, he remains hindered by the purity of his voice. His instrument suited “Invisible,” a recent inspirational hit, but sounded silly on “Secret Love.” Even with a rugged arrangement, Hayes’ innocent voice prevented the song about a tryst from being remotely believable.
Hayes’ voice will likely grow a few rough edges as he ages. Until then, he’s adeptly addressing the elements under his control. Seemingly aware that the welcome transformation he displayed Saturday might have unsettled a few of his fans, Hayes spent several minutes interacting with admirers after the house lights went up at the conclusion of the concert.
The gesture is likely to ensure that his first headlining performance at the Sprint Center won’t be his last.
Storyline; Wild Card; Storm Warning; Secret Love; Somebody’s Heartbreak; Dream Girl; Still Fallin’; More Than I Should; You Think You Know Somebody; Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me; If It’s Just Me; Flashlight; Love Too Much; Invisible; Wanted; Better Than This; A Thing About You; Love Makes Me; Tattoo; Hey, Soul Sister; I Want Crazy.