Headlining arenas may be the dream for most young performers who make their way to Nashville, but few ever get there. After 13 years and eight albums, Dierks Bentley has proven he’s not only on a roll. He’s there to stay. But it hasn’t been that long since he was an opening act.
In fact, PNC Music Pavilion in Charlotte was the opening venue on his first big headlining tour in 2014.
“I remember looking out from behind the curtain and making sure there was a crowd there,” Bentley says. “I’d played there many times before that, but to have it be the start of sort of the second phase of my career, it’s a special place to me.”
He returns to PNC Thursday, midway through his “Somewhere on a Beach Tour.”
Like other headliners, he can churn out both party-starting hits (like “Drunk on a Plane,” “Sideways” or “Somewhere on a Beach”) and ballads (like his classic “Every Mile a Memory”), but Bentley also colors outside the mainstream lines.
He’s done roots-influenced bluegrass throwback (2010’s “Up on the Ridge”), duets with pop-rock singer Elle King and Kacey Musgraves (before she was country’s “it” girl), and a noir video series to introduce his new album “Black” – his third consecutive No. 1.
“I really feel like this album is almost a concept record, a little story of this guy’s journey, the ups and downs of a relationship,” Bentley says. “I gave those four songs to my friend (filmmaker) Wes Edwards. I didn’t expect somebody to get knocked off. Damn. That’s dark. (But I was) researching some of those darker corners of love.”
“Black’s” mid-tempo tracks are relaxed and somewhat darker than what we usually hear from the Oklahoma native.
It’s book-ended by two of his best originals: the sexy, slow-burning title track and “Can’t Be Replaced,” which echoes his 2014 hit “I Hold On.” The serious material doesn’t necessarily change the dynamic of the show – which includes plenty of crowd-rousers – but it does elevate the range.
“ ‘Somewhere on a Beach’ accomplishes the goal of a live show from the standpoint of everyone losing their minds and singing along,” he says of the laid-back, atypical party starter. “It’s about finding different ways to do that.”
The record’s release follows his first vacation from the constant album-tour-album cycle in 12 years.
“A lot of people want to do what we get to do,” he says. “You can’t take your foot off the gas. I love touring and coming up with new ideas, launching new tours and picking new people to tour with. It’s never a grind.”
“The hardest part is being away from family. I got my pilot’s license so I can fly back and forth instead of leaving on the bus. There’s no negatives.”
That family includes three daughters and his wife, Cassidy. It’s their presence that made “Different for Girls” appeal to him.
“I thought it was a once-in-a-career type song. It resonates with me having a couple daughters and some powerful women that manage my world,” he says. “It makes you see the world a little differently.”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday.
Where: PNC Music Pavilion, 707 Pavilion Blvd.
Details: 704-549-5555; www.livenation.com.