Brad Paisley, Brooks & Dunn, Rascal Flatts: Those behatted hunks have put plenty of denim'd fannies in the seats at 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre. But despite their considerable country clout, those acts have never sold out our best and biggest shed in advance. They might have filled it up eventually, mind you, but they needed walkup love the day of the gig.
On Friday, however, Jason Aldean joined an elite group (Kenny Chesney's in there, too), selling out his Amp show way in advance, a feat not to be taken lightly in a town that digs its drawlin' superstars — and in a state famous for its last-minute walkup mentality.
But 20,000 fans made darn sure their tickets were in hand well before the big night. And when all was shouted and done, they must have been glad they thought, and bought, ahead.
A 34-year-old Georgia boy, Aldean isn't your typical country act. After lead-in music from AC/DC, he took the stage, packed with amps and wild lighting rigs, in a vintage concert tee touting John "Cougar" Mellencamp — that's not just rock, that's old-school, boys and girls. Aldean's drummer had a Mohawk and was given a requisite tongue-wagging metallic solo.
Even one of Aldean's opening acts, the married duo Thompson Square, looked like they were fronting a switchblade-tough Blondie tribute act. Their short, fiery set, which included Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not, had a sturdy thump, too.
Aldean is a crossover success, but on his own terms. He's not looking to make a statement; he's looking to raise a ruckus. When he rapped on Dirt Road Anthem, it was more as a Kid Rock trailer-park poet than hip-hop prince Eminem. Aldean just might be the ideal star for these melting-pot times.
If there was a minor drawback to Aldean's bare-knuckle ways, it's that there was so much rumble in the bass department that the sound often hit the crowd like a big mono haymaker. That took a little away from Aldean's voice, which is a good, gritty instrument, and his underrated phrasing, which can induce sing-alongs (Big Green Tractor), fist pumps (Crazy Town) and a good case of the weepies (See You When I See You).
Aldean's versatile pipes were put to the test during the night's pull-out-the-stops highlight, when Kelly Clarkson, showing up in pre-taped form on a giant screen, hooked up with Aldean for their hit duet Don't You Wanna Stay. Clarkson is one of the best young belters working today, but Aldean can hang with her just fine. And it's a testament to their talents that the hi-tech trickery sidestepped cheeseball and packed genuine emotional punch.
The show ended with all the energy of a barroom brawl, Aldean letting loose his rock-based band. They even uncorked Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive, wailing that New Jersey anthem as if it were the gospel. The capacity crowd, in Aldean's corner from the start, shouted it right back: a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll, a whole lot of loud.