Story By: Deborah Leung
Photos By: Benjamin Rogers Jr
For Luke Bryan Luke, it’s all in the hips.
On Friday night, the Nashville singer – songwriter and Georgia native known for country-pop hits like “Play It Again” and “Drunk on You” performed a set at Royal Farms Arena that leaned heavily on his party anthems.
Beyond the arsenal of hits, the constant throughout the show was Bryan’s come-hither swaying in tight jeans. The potency of Bryan’s singles catalog matched with his bro-next-door stage presence left little need for heavy lifting. With an endearingly cheesy swagger, Bryan carried himself like a country sex symbol.
With his six-piece band behind him, Bryan established the party atmosphere early, opening the show with up-tempo songs like “Rain is a Good Thing” and “Kick the Dust Up.” He frequently utilized the stage’s most striking element a long catwalk leading to a secondary square stage in the middle of the arena to engage the audience.
While keeping the banter to a minimum, Bryan made a gracious host. After thanking the military personnel in the audience, he played the role of a flirt, a natural setting for a singer who would later perform “Country Girl (Shake It for Me).”
“We got some good-looking country girls in here for a Friday night,” Bryan said to cheers.
He also doesn’t lack confidence, and with his track record — more than 27 million songs sold, a dozen No. 1 hits and albums with platinum plaques — it was hard to blame him. On Friday night, his thanking of the crowd for his recent Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award doubled as a humble-brag.
It was also easy to see why Bryan has connected with such a large audience since his career began in 2007. Like so many other stars in genres like rap, pop and electronic dance music, Bryan’s take on country offers pure escapism. Having a good time was the theme Friday night, which felt in line with Bryan’s Spring Break-loving, beer-drinking brand.
Most obvious, though, was the gift that got Bryan’s career moving up the charts in the first place. He began as a hired gun of a songwriter, and in his best songs, it’s clear Bryan’s knack for syncing indelible melodies with lyrics that roll off the tongue has only grown stronger as his star has brightened.
The best songs — “I See You,” “Strip It Down” — have a professional polish that make their melody lines instantly hummable and familiar. On Friday, the songs’ sturdy construction sounded at home in a filled arena.
To reach the heights Bryan has, crossover mainstream appeal is often necessary, so it came as little surprise when Bryan worked recent pop hits into the set. Results, however, were mixed.
Little Big Town, the country quartet that performed earlier in the night, returned to the stage to help Bryan cover Ed Sheeran’s wedding standard “Thinking Out Loud,” a ballad that lent itself well to the harmony-makers on stage. (The five vocalists punctuated the collaboration with a tequila shot. Bryan then brought out another opening act, Dustin Lynch, for help on Brooks & Dunn’s “Play Something Country.”)
But Bryan’s sanitized take on the Weekend’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” came off as schlocky karaoke, and its placement at the end of the show was perplexing. The crowd, for its part, didn’t seem to think so. As he sang the hook, the audience danced, finding a collective rhythm in line with Bryan and those constantly moving hips.