Jason Aldean had a bit of a home-field advantage — by proxy, at least — when he brought his “Ride All Night Tour” to PNC Music Pavilion on Thursday night.
Though he’s originally from Georgia, 4-1/2 years ago he married a Carolina girl (ex-Bobcats cheerleader/former “American Idol” contestant Brittany Kerr, a South Mecklenburg High School graduate who used to sing in the choir at Calvary Church on Pineville-Matthews Road); and though the couple now lives in Nashville with their two children, Kerr’s still got family in Charlotte (her father Donald is a small-business owner here, her mother Debbie a dental hygienist).
So it might come as a shock to hear that while the country singer’s 90-minute set mostly was met with boisterous and beer-soaked cheers, Aldean also managed on multiple occasions to elicit boos from swaths of the sold-out crowd.
Just shy of halfway through the show, while teeing up “We Back” — his latest guitar-fueld arena-ready anthem, which dropped on country radio this week and will be on his forthcoming album “9” — Aldean noted, proudly: “The cool thing about dropping this single is that it’s also college football season right now. ... Now, have we got anybody that every week watches the SEC on CBS?”
Some shouted approvingly, but they were quickly overwhelmed by a blizzard of boos.
“I know we got a lot of ACC guys in the house,” Aldean said. “But my song isn’t on there. It’s on CBS — the SEC ‘game of the week’ — alright?” A few more yeas, a lot more nays.
Aldean tried again to right the ship: “So back to what I was saying, if anybody in here watches the SEC on CBS every week” — yet more boos — “you’re gonna hear this song, and it’s our song.”
Four songs later, after a passionate performance of “When She Says Baby,” he broke from the action to talk football again.
“I do appreciate you guys being here tonight, ’cause I do know there’s a Carolina Panthers game goin’ on right now,” Aldean said, a grin creeping out from underneath the shadow of his pulled-down-low cowboy hat. But while he probably should have anticipated the SEC blowback earlier, the immediate reaction he got to bringing up the Panthers had to have been altogether dumbfounding: After scattered cheers broke out, the place dissolved into surprisingly emphatic boos.
Aldean held his hands out, palms skyward. “You guys booing that, too? What’s your team?”
Lots of drunken shouts rang out, but few were intelligible.
“That’s the only team in the Carolinas, and you gotta be a Minnesota Vikings fan?”
Yet more boos.
“You guys are a tough crowd when it comes to sports, man,” Aldean said, shaking his head and moving on to “Drowns the Whiskey” — his 2018 duet with Miranda Lambert (who joined via video and pre-recorded vocals) — as everyone in the amphitheater quickly and enthusiastically jumped back on his side.
Maybe he should have just kept the emphasis on the music and the revelry. Because when the music was playing, Aldean clearly was in his comfort zone, and for as long as the beer flowed from the concession stands, the fans jammed inside PNC on this sweltering evening clearly were in theirs.
The setlist was a veritable hit parade, a carefully curated collection of 23 songs that touched on every album in his catalog; there were no deep cuts, no indulgent covers of work by other artists, no acoustic versions, just a rapid-fire succession of his most head-bobbing, hook-laden, crowd-pleasing stuff. (Quick aside: I realize “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem” are technically covers, but — all due respect to Brantley Gilbert and Colt Ford — Aldean is the guy who made those songs hits.)
From the moment he emerged to launch the show with 2012 chart-topper “Take a Little Ride” — which saw Aldean skipping and running around the stage signaling wildly with his tattooed arms for the crowd to get up and get rowdy — the headliner had fans hanging onto and singing along with practically every word.
And he warned them early on that it would be a long night.
“We’re gonna be here for awhile,” he said. “And I know it’s a Thursday night. If you guys gotta be at work tomorrow, that’s just too damn bad. You’re gonna be hung over and late — so you might as well call in sick.” (Reaction: Thunderous cheers, no jeers.)
Fifty minutes later, he put it out there again: “I feel like some of you guys haven’t called into work yet. You should do that now,” the singer repeated, before drinking a shot of tequila out of a red Solo cup. (Reaction: Same as the first time.)
Dressed in blue jeans, cowboy boots and hat, and an Alabama T-shirt featuring the Confederate flag, Aldean looked as comfortable if not more so than most country megastars do with a guitar in his hand, but I’d guess the fans in the pit closest to the stage were happier when he set it down: During “We Back, “Gettin’ Warmed Up,” “Hicktown” and closer “The Only Way I Know,” going guitar-less freed him up to hand out high-fives and sign a few autographs mid-performance.
And while he can play competently enough, his band is so good he doesn’t really need to contribute any additional instrumentation — evidenced most convincingly when guitarists Kurt Allison and Jack Sizemore and bassist Tully Kennedy engaged in a minute-and-40-second-long bender of licks and riffs to bring “My Kinda Party” to a face-melting climax.
In some ways, he pulled moves directly out of the playbook for country artists doing live performances. For example, he gave a nod to the host city by putting a twist on his own familiar lyrics — in “Tattoos on This Town,” he sang, “We laid a lot of memories down / And we’ll always be hangin’ around / Like tattoos on this town / Like tattoos on this Carolina town”; in “Fly Over States,” he crooned, “Take a ride across the badlands / Feel that freedom on your face / Breathe in all that open space / Meet a girl from Carolina” (in the studio version, it’s “Amarillo”).
But for better or worse, he also flipped the switch on the typical routine.
For one, unlike virtually all of his peers, who seem to have a rule that it’s proper etiquette to bring your openers back out to perform with them, Aldean didn’t have Carly Pearce or Kane Brown return during the main set to duet with him.
Also, if you haven’t already heard about how he feels about encores ...
“Usually at every point in a show, there’s a point where the artist goes backstage, you guys clap for awhile, the artist comes back, plays a few songs, and they call it an encore,” he told the crowd as the end drew near. “Well, I for one think that encores are complete bull---- and a waste of time. So I just propose this: I just say we play you guys everything we got for the show, and when the show’s over, it’s just over.”
When he did get to the end — after closing with “The Only Way I Know” just shy of 11 p.m. — Aldean cracked a beer, took a swig, punched it causing foam to billow out of the opening, then took a long chug before flicking the empty can to the ground.
The crowd roared. Not a single boo.
Clearly, if there’s a sport his fans could all agree on on Thursday night, it was drinking beer.
Jason Aldean’s setlist
1. “Take a Little Ride”
2. “Tattoos on This Town”
3. “Fly Over States”
4. “A Little More Summertime”
5. “Crazy Town”
6. “Amarillo Sky”
7. “Rearview Town”
8. “Burnin’ It Down”
9. “Big Green Tractor”
10. “Any Ol’ Barstool”
11. “We Back”
12. “Gettin’ Warmed Up”
13. “Night Train”
14. “When She Says Baby”
15. “Drowns the Whiskey”
16. “Lights Come On”
17. “Girl Like You”
18. “My Kinda Party”
20. “Dirt Road Anthem”
21. “She’s Country”
22. “You Make It Easy”
23. “The Only Way I Know”
Théoden Janes: 704-358-5897, @theodenjanes