The second, more rockin’ round of this week’s duelling country concerts at Red Deer’s Centrium was an amped up, testosterone-fuelled affair.
Call it beer-commercial country if you like, but some 6,000 Central Albertans couldn’t get enough of Thursday’s Jason Aldean show with Tyler Farr and Cole Swindell.
The three American singers brought way more rock-star swagger to town than was evident at Tuesday night’s more earnest, pop-country concert by Canadians Paul Brandt, Dean Brody and Jess Moskaluke.
No Little Yellow Blanket-style quaint country songs here. This was country with great balls of fire — literally.
We’re talking actual three-metre-high flames shooting up around Aldean as he was lowered to the stage on a lit-up electric scaffold while singing Hicktown.
With a chain slung from the pocket of his jeans and another around his neck, the cowboy-hatted Aldean owed part of his look to hip-hop and a large part of his fuzzy, distorted guitar sound to grunge rock.
“I know Canadians like to raise some hell, so I wanna hear it — d’ya know what I’m sayin’?” said Aldean, to thunderous cheers from the crowd.
He launched into his cover of the Brantley Gilbert song My Kinda Party and the Centrium took on a nightclubby atmosphere, with girls in tight jeans and check-shirted guys with beers checking each other out around the stage.
Aldean followed up with Tattoos on this Town, with its heavy vibe and lyrics about leaving a mark in the world. Amarillo Sky, Tonight Looks Good on You, Big Green Tractor, Johnny Cash, Fly Over the States, and Take a Little Ride were some of the other hits the triple-platinum selling Georgia singer (with 21 No. 1 singles) delivered with characteristic intensity and no-nonsense demeanor.
The steely Aldean didn’t even crack a smile until he was in the middle of Night Train, his massive 2012 hit, which was performed just before a cover of Bryan Adams’ Summer of ‘69 — his musical nod to Canada.
With two guitarists in Aldean’s crack five-piece band pulling off howling solos on speaker stands, there were no fans two-stepping in the aisles. Listeners bobbed along to the driving beat as if at a Pearl Jam concert.
Yes, country music and its audience have certainly come a long way since a beer bottle sailed over a railing and smashed onto the dance floor beside some foolhardy young cityslickers many years ago. The group of us had dared to plug a Michael Jackson song into the jukebox during the Morris (Man.) Stampede — so naturally there was hostility.
Meanwhile on Thursday night, DeeJay Silver spun vinyls of everything from Ludacris to Kid Rock to AC/DC between sets, and nobody batted an eye. Go figure…
Before Aldean rocked out on stage, another rockin’ Georgian, Swindell, had performed his breakout hit Chillin’ It, as well as various songs about trucks, alcohol consumption and partying.
The amiable Swindell has a catchy way with a tune — as he demonstrated with This is How We Roll, Get Me Some of That and Ain’t Worth the Whiskey — the latter being a song about “exes”.
“All of us have been done wrong, hurt, treated badly, screwed over,” said the artist. “If you have an ex out there, I hope it’s not goin’ to ruin your good time … Hope you tell her, ‘You ain’t worth the whiskey!’”
Strong openers had been aggressively belted out by up-and-coming Missouri singer Farr, including A Guy Walked into a Bar and Redneck Crazy before he brushed palms with fans and nearly stumbled on his way off stage.
When Farr and Swindell later returned in front of the audience to join Aldean in performing The Only Way I Know, American flags were projected onto a video screen behind them, as they sang about “old red dirt” and “growing up on one of them old farm towns.”
It’s reassuring, I guess, that some things about country music don’t change.