Luke Bryan looked as hot as anyone I’ve ever seen perform at PNC Music Pavilion, and I mean really, really hot.
Like, still-nearly-90-degrees-at-9:15-p.m. hot. Sweat-dripping-steadily-off-of-his-elbows-by-the-third-song hot. So hot that the 41-year-old country music star had trouble articulating just how hot it was on stage under those lights, probably because he was too hot.
“It is hot as hell. What is the deal?” Bryan asked the sold-out crowd after finishing “Someone Else Calling You Baby,” the sixth song of his marathon 23-song set on Friday night. “I’ll tell ya, if y’all see me go down, just give me a minute, I’ll get back up. But I might hit —” he stammered. “I might just —” he sweated. “Ugh. Like, UGH,” he sighed. Then, again: “It’s hot as hell.”
It didn’t help, probably, that he opened with an exuberant performance of 2011 hit “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)” that featured 10 giant shafts of fire shooting from the stage every time he sang the titular line; from a dozen rows back, it felt kind of like it feels when you open the oven to put something on the broiler, so up on stage, it must have felt like being on the surface of the sun.
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Still, for some fans (i.e. lawn ticketholders), the heat was a welcome respite from the showers, storms and downpours that have put a slight damper on sitting under the stars at Bryan’s concerts for the past several years. (The worst case was two summers ago, when lightning forced anyone in uncovered seats back to their cars. Once the storm blew over, the show went on. It didn’t end till midnight.)
“Wooooo! So, it finally did not rain in Carolina,” Bryan exclaimed Friday, as fans responded with cheers. “But all the trees are pollinatin’ or some s---. What’s goin’ on? ’Cause ... my allergies are flarin’ up. So I may have to let y’all sing for me a little bit, but I’m gonna drink some tequila and I’ll get through it, alright?”
The singer actually held back on the imbibing, at first. When a stagehand long-tossed him a can of Miller Lite in the early going, he cracked it and took just a quick pull before passing it on to a fan in the pit. When a big ol’ cooler of the beer was carried out and set on the catwalk right before he launched into 2007’s “All My Friends Say,” he distributed several to fans but for his part stuck to bottled water.
It wasn’t until support act Jon Pardi was brought out for a round of duets during the final third of the show that the tequila came into play. But more on that in a minute.
First off, let’s just say: Luke was Luke on Friday night. (Or, Luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuke, as fans repeatedly uttered between songs.)
He used everything in the Luke Bryan playbook, jogging in place during “I Don’t Want This Night to End,” puffing out his chest and strutting, like a chicken during “All My Friends Say” and — in pretty much any uptempo song — making goofy facial expressions, vigorously shaking his hips and his booty, then bursting into laughter at the absurdity of it all.
Bryan did prove he could stay still and let his singing do the work on more-emotionally resonant, more-stripped-down tracks like “Someone Else Calling You Baby” and “Drink a Beer”; but it really seems like he gets the most joy out of movement, these sporadic, spontaneous, unchoreographed bursts of motion that seem lifted from Miley Cyrus videos, country western line dances and Elaine from “Seinfeld.”
His only misstep, from where I sat, was some awkward banter before “Crash My Party” that began as a tribute to the military (which garnered, naturally, huge cheers), then moved on to policemen and firefighters (big cheers), then schoolteachers and nurses (decent cheers), then ... plastic surgeons? Then ... recipients of plastic surgeons?
Nothing against women with breast implants, but the joke (?) seemed a bit off-key.
Speaking of which, Pardi’s guitar appeared to be out of tune when he and Bryan first launched into their duet of George Strait’s “Carrying Your Love With Me,” so they good-naturedly made some adjustments and restarted. “This is our first time ever playin’ a concert, me and Luke,” Pardi quipped.
They did three songs and two shots of tequila together, with the highlight coming when — after Bryan traded his trademark fitted ballcap to Pardi for his trademark cowboy hat — Pardi started swiveling his hips and waggling his rear end in a perfect send-up of Bryan, who laughed so hard he almost fell over.
On a less-silly note, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Pardi’s choice to wear a sleeveless Harley-Davidson T-shirt at a moment when President Donald Trump is particularly unhappy with the motorcycle company was at least a mild political statement. (I think it had to have been. Feel free to email me to argue about why I’m wrong.)
And speaking of political statements, Bryan’s presentation of “Most People Are Good” sure seemed like one, too. There’s been plenty of talk about the theme of acceptance in the new song, which he’s touring with for the first time this summer, and its “I believe you love who you love / Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of” lyric.
I mean, Bryan definitely wanted his fans to pay close attention to those words; after all, it’s the only song of the night that was backed by a video featuring all the lyrics to the song in big, bold, unmistakable letters. Plus, if you were paying extra-close attention to the video, you may have noticed as those two lines flashed onscreen the last time through the chorus, two older women were shown resting their heads against each other’s and smiling.
Now, in other contexts, this might not be particularly noteworthy. But Bryan is among a small but growing number of country artists who are making a case for diversity and inclusion in a genre that isn’t known for doing so.
Of course, it was somewhat ambiguous as to whether the women in the video were a couple, or sisters, or just good friends. There’s no way to know for sure.
What I do know is that, after this week — one marred by a horrific tragedy in Maryland that struck awfully close to home — I needed to both see and hear this song’s broader sentimental message every bit as much as I needed a rollicking Friday night concert, a shot of tequila or two, and a personal air-conditioning device.
As the song says:
I believe if you just go by the nightly news,
Your faith in all mankind would be the first thing you lose. ...
I believe this world ain’t half as bad as it looks,
I believe most people are good.
Luke Bryan’s setlist
1. “Country Girl (Shake It for Me)”
2. “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day”
3. “I Don’t Want This Night to End”
4. “All My Friends Say”
5. “Light It Up”
6. “Someone Else Calling You Baby”
7. “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
8. “Most People Are Good”
9. “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset”
10. “What Makes You Country”
11. “Kick the Dust Up”
12. “Strip It Down”
13. “Drunk on You”
14. “Crash My Party”
15. “Home Alone Tonight” / “I See You” / “Fast” (acoustic medley)
16. “Carrying Your Love With Me” (George Strait cover with Jon Pardi)
17. “Green Grass Grows” (Tim McGraw cover with Jon Pardi)
18. “John Deere Green” (Joe Diffie cover with Jon Pardi)
19. “Drink a Beer”
20. “Play It Again”
21. “Rain Is a Good Thing”
23. “That’s My Kind of Night”