Six songs into Luke Bryan’s sold out performance last night at Rupp Arena, the pace and agenda for the evening appeared to be set.
The music was all power pop fury, from the show opening party anthem That’s My Kind of Night to the melodic, retro-fitting Someone Else Calling You Baby. All of it came with plenty of guitar ammo and technical gusto, too – enough to bolster the reedy timbre of the Georgia born country star’s voice and make the resulting program arena worthy enough to keep the Rupp crowd of 18,000 on its feet for a full 90 minutes.
Then something curious occurred. After pausing momentarily to apologize for postponing the concert from January after his stage was damaged during a post-show load out in Columbus, Bryan sat down at an upright piano situated on a large disc shaped platform that sat in the middle of the arena floor.
“Hey, Dwight Yoakam is from Kentucky,” the singer stated. With that, he launched into a seemingly impromptu medley of three early hits popularized by the Pike County native – I Sang Dixie, Honky Tonk Man and Guitars, Cadillacs. It wasn’t the sleekest moment of the show. Bryan handled the bulk of the tunes on his own with his band scrambling to find a way in. But for a concert that was otherwise devoted to a near static representation of rootless, rockish and often numbingly modernized country pop, the Yoakam set was refreshingly heartfelt.
Then again, Bryan was covering the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis dance hit Can’t Hold Us later in the set with opening acts Lee Brice and Cole Swindell in tow, enforcing how fleeting the nod to country tradition was. Lest we forget, the whole production began with Bryan standing atop a full blown pickup truck that rose out of the floor stage. Oh, and did we mention singer and truck were surrounded by flames? It was a true Spinal Tap moment.
While the truck has long been one of the great fallback symbols of contemporary country, it was usurped last night. Hands down, the country music product of choice throughout the performance was – you guessed it – beer.
All three acts sang love songs to the libation. Show opener Swindell, a singer with phrasing that approximated hip hop as much as country, offered Brought to You By Beer – perhaps the most shameless brew tune of the evening. Brice, whose 50 minute set yielded the night’s most honestly emotive, energetic and stylistically diverse performance, kept the sentiments uncluttered with an ode titled simply Beer.
Bryan offered two – the deceptively titled Drink a Beer (which wasn’t a beer drinking tune, per se, but a curiously stoic reflection) – and the swampy Drinkin’ Beer, Wastin’ Bullets, which was prefaced with the war cry of “How many deer hunters we got here tonight?”
The alcohol and firearms avenue may not have exactly the most formidable thematic path for this show to take. But given how readily the three acts at Rupp championed the suds last night, it’s a safe bet you’ll see at least one of them saddled up to a big label brewery endorsement sometime soon.