TAMPA — Jason Aldean doesn't write his own hits, but man, he sure does have a peerless ear for what's going to giddy straight up the charts. And when he does take a liking to someone else's song, the Macon, Ga., country star leans into that sucker and sings the ever-lovin' yeehaw out of it.
That's just one of the profitable reasons the 35-year-old consistently sells out the 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheatre, which he did again Friday for a clothes-averse crowd of 20,000. Aldean may not be an instant household name like beach baller Kenny Chesney, but he's not far off from packing them into ginormous stadiums, too. J.A. throws a sweaty party for sure.
Aldean was joined by super-sized opening act Luke Bryan, whose smash hit Drunk on You has gone "boom boom" all the way to No. 1. Bryan and Aldean own country radio these days, and for very similar reasons. They fall under the country banner, but they know their way around rock, rap and pop too.
In other words, Aldean and Bryan may not be crossover acts, but they play for a new iPod-equipped generation of crossover fans.
With his baseball cap turned backwards, the 36-year-old Bryan, backed by a five-piece band, injected the raucous All My Friends Say with a convincing wedge of Metallica's Enter Sandman, which he uncorked with a devil-horns authenticity. For lap-dance special Country Girl (Shake It for Me), he inserted a quick-lipped rap referencing Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby.
And Bryan's best song of the night wasn't one of his own, but a sing-along version of Journey's Faithfully. A little country, a little rock, a litle nostalgia. Boom boom, country's hottest new star.
Aldean is considerably more traditional than Bryan — and a little less hyper and hammy too. A la the titular hero of opening number Johnny Cash, Aldean cuts an intimidating figure. He might give a smirk here, a fist pump there, but mainly he just stands oak-like behind the mike and delivers the goods.
Communal sway Big Green Tractor gave way to Amarillo Sky. He's not afraid to get mushy on the masses either, bringing Kelly Clarkson along via video for Don't You Wanna Stay, one of the best duets in recent memory.
Aldean's most endearing song, Tattoos on This Town, written by the trio of Michael Dulaney, Wendell Mobley and Neil Thrasher, has a hard rock shell but a heartbreaking chorus; it's wistful enough for the cowgirls, but plenty roughneck for the cowboys.
Aldean's entrance music wasn't something from the country bin but the classic-rock collection: AC/DC's You Shook Me All Night Long and the Guess Who's American Woman. He picked up that thread nicely with filthy-awesome throwdown She's Country, which packs more swagger and grit in its groove than any Nashville hit in recent memory.
And for his encore, Aldean uncorked Kid Rock's hick-hop anthem Cowboy. The crowd stomped their boots and twirled their skirts, echoing back every single word — 21st century country fans saluting their new king.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.