Aldean plays his second career show at The Garden to sold-out crowd
There is something about Madison Square Garden that makes it the perfect venue to hear today’s top artists. If I had to wager a guess, it’s because the 20,000-seater feels cozy. So many arenas feel like oval warehouses with tiered seating. But Madison Square Garden goes for luxury and comfort. So, when I settled in Saturday night (Aug 11th) for yet another three act concert tour, headlined by Jason Aldean, I knew it was going to be a great evening.
First up, Lauren Alaina played the standard show-opening half hour. The reaction to the 2011 American Idol runner-up was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed for a first-spot act. Her voice immediately captivated the still-filling arena, and by the time she got to her heart wrenching song “3,” the bowl was nearly filled with fans gleefully waving their phone lights in time to the ballad.
A few more hits, and Lauren Alaina will be a middle act within a year, and headlining by 2020. Perhaps her tour will bring her right back to the Garden, where this spitfire 23-year-old played for the first time last night. Her emotion and gratitude at being at the World’s Most Famous Arena was on full display, and the audience ate it up.
Next up, Luke Combs took the stage for a 45-minute set featuring his biggest hits, including “Hurricane” and “When it Rains it Pours.” The latter taking on the aura of Comb’s very-own “Friends in Low Places” — that is, the audience made a party out of knowing every word. It would be just as well, as the obvious 90’s country influence was ever-present during his set. This included the Brooks & Dunn-inspired “Honky-Tonk Highway,” with a little “Boot-Scootin’ Boogie” thrown in for good measure. In fact, Combs’ portion of the night was filled with originals infused with throwbacks.
I’m going to say this, and I hope that in a decade you, dear reader, can find this article again and know that it’s true: Luke Combs is my generation’s shot at a George Jones. That’s right. His distinctive voice and outlaw attitude are one aspect. But what is bone-chillingly awesome is the way Combs can turn a phrase in songs like “Beautiful Crazy,” “She Got the Best of Me,” and “Sherriff You Want To,” the latter of which he did not perform at MSG. The songwriting on these numbers draws a direct and haunting line back to the Possum.
Jason Aldean’s set was elaborate for a country music show and required a half an hour reset: An A frame of screens that rose above the stage to reveal his band, and a ramp from an upper platform down to the main stage. At 9:30 on the dot, the lighting trusses above the stage glowed in a neon red and blue as said A frame, with the logo of the High Noon Neon Tour displayed, lifted up and the band began to strum away. Shortly after, the man himself sprung up from under the stage, ran down the ramp, and immediately got the crowd going with “Gettin’ Warmed Up,” off of his latest album, Review Town.
To put the concert in a metaphor Aldean fans might understand: The man plowed over Madison Square Garden with a “Big Green Tractor,” and turned New York into one of those “Flyover States,” and left us at the end of the night to head back in to our “Crazy Town.”
Throughout the 23-song set, Aldean alternated between playing one of three guitars (with stickers denoting his favorite brands and sports teams), and using a handheld microphone. Like contemporary Brad Paisley [see my previous review], Aldean opted for three strategically-placed microphone stands so that he could stay mobile while playing guitar, yet not have to wear a headset microphone. He bang-bang-banged those strings and the Hank came out in just over 90 minutes, taking few breaks in between songs, preferring to just let the music plow the field. He did stop after a love ballad, however, to congratulate a couple that got engaged during “You Make it Easy.” That probably happens a lot.
Jason Aldean cuts a somewhat controversial figure in country music: Some consider him to be too “bro country” to warrant relevance. While others, like Garth Brooks, extol the virtue of what Brooks calls Aldean’s “muscle country” as an important direction for the genre. As seems to usually be the case, I tend to agree with Brooks: Aldean hits the middle of the road within this newer sub-genre. If “bro country” is used as a term to describe country music that lacks authenticity by its subjects, Aldean does not fit that mold. Sure, he grittily rocks about the standard fare of hick towns, country girls, and trucks — but Jason Aldean attacks his topics with such roughneck honesty that you can’t help but sing along.