What Makes You Country, the title of the tour Luke Bryan brought to the Sprint Center, is a provocation.
Bryan’s hits have played a pivotal role in eroding traditional elements from the play lists of country radio stations during the past 12 years. He celebrated his urbane sound with about 14,000 admirers on Sunday.
The son of a Georgia peanut farmer, Bryan, 42, still resembles the social director of the most popular fraternity on a Southern college campus. A few minutes after distributing cans of beer to appreciative fans during “All My Friends Say,” he insisted that “if you show up on a Sunday night to drink beer, dance and party, then you are country.”
Even so, many of the 26 songs Bryan and his six-piece backing band played didn’t register as country. Bryan rapped a bit on the hick-hop anthem “Kick the Dust Up” as plumes of flame burst from the stage. The pyrotechnics elicited less incendiary screams than the suggestive gyrations of Bryan’s hips. He spent much of his nearly two-hour show strutting on a platform in the middle of the arena.
Renditions of “Light It Up,” a sultry song about obsessively monitoring a relationship through a phone, and “Play It Again,” a testimonial about music as an aphrodisiac, possess the pop polish associated with Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, Bryan’s fellow judges on “American Idol.” He covered a bit of Maroon 5’s pop song “Girls Like You” in a solo acoustic segment. The fusion of styles was entirely natural. Bryan and his fans disregard genre distinctions in much the same way animals can’t comprehend borders between nations.
Bryan’s overt evocations of country themes seemed strained. A version of “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day” resembled a sanitized interpretation of Hank Williams Jr.’s “A Country Boy Can Survive.” Uncomplicated party songs like “This Is How We Roll” rang truer.
“Up Down,” the night’s most effective party song, was performed twice. After Morgan Wallen, a contestant on the television competition “The Voice” in 2014, showcased his hit earlier in the show, he was called back to the stage to sing it with Bryan. Jon Pardi, an artist Bryan called “the California cowboy,” also delivered a satisfying opening set.
Bryan may seem less country than Pardi and Waller, but his appearance made a persuasive case that country is a state of mind rather than an artistic choice.
Luke Bryan’s set list
Country Girl (Shake It for Me); Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day; I Don’t Want This Night to End; This Is How We Roll; All My Friends Say; Light It Up; Someone Else Calling You Baby; Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye; Up Down; Most People Are Good; Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset; What Makes You Country; Kick the Dust Up; Strip It Down; Drunk on You; Crash My Party; Home Alone Tonight; Do I; Fast; Girls Like You; Good Directions; Drink a Beer; Play It Again; Rain Is a Good Thing; Move; That’s My Kind of Night