It was country music with the Blake Shelton stamp-of-approval.
Traditional sounds yielded to rock and rap in Luke Bryan’s performance for a sold-out crowd on Saturday at Amway Center. That’s nothing new in modern country music, but Shelton’s recent comments about “old fart” traditionalists has re-opened a divide between classic country and today’s stars.
In a high-octane 90-plus minutes, Bryan left no doubt about what camp he’s in.
Performing on a stage equipped with spotlights, strobes, fog and video effects (almost enough to rival Justin Bieber’s brown-out-inducing light show the previous night), Bryan had no trouble making sparks.
In an opening salvo of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” “Country Man” and “Someone Else Calling You Baby,” the overdriven guitars and drums combined to create an explosive foundation.
Bryan’s 6-piece ensemble came equipped with a pedal steel guitar and fiddle, but neither stood the chance of a leaf in a hurricane against the onslaught of guitars and pounding drums. Even worse, the arena’s sound mix turned the harder-driving songs into so much mushy low-end noise.
That sapped some of the heart from “Rain Is a Good Thing” and other anthems about swamps, dirt roads and other countrified images, but the arena was rocking.
In its opening 25 minutes, Florida Georgia Line also showed its rock ‘n’ roll heart, although the duo – Georgia-bred Tyler Hubbard and Ormond Beach product Brian Kelley – didn’t come with enough memorable material to support the arena-rock posturing. Plodding songs such as “Get Your Shine On,” “Party People” and “Tell Me How You Like It” were all monotonous drum parts and repetitive lyrics.
The shimmering, high-energy “I Got You” and other songs were augmented by brightly colored images on a giant video screen. Yet the most engaging part was the stripped-down acoustic ballad “Glass.”
Bryan did a few acoustic ballads, but had more fun with wilder stuff, including a tear through Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven.”
The good news? Most of it was way better than anything ever done by blowhard duo Big & Rich, an encouraging sign for country fans – old farts and young.