When you think about it, or drink about it, Chris Daughtry is basically a hairless version of Jon Bon Jovi. Both hunks excel at a slick brand of bar rock that is essentially, harmlessly, identically cut from the same chords and choruses. You come to their shows not to ponder, but to party, everyman escapism in its loudest form.
Of course, Bon Jovi, New Jersey's second-favorite rock son, has been selling-out stadiums for 25 years now.
Daughtry, who famously did not win American Idol, has only been around since 2006, his self-titled disc the fastest-selling debut rock album in SoundScan history.
So while their double bill at the St. Pete Times Forum on Sunday was an inspired pairing, one that sent a humongous crowd of 20,537 into a three-hour tizzy, there was no doubt which act should be genuflecting to the other.
Flanked by four bandmates, the 28-year-old Daughtry first appeared in a cowboy hat. But his head wouldn't stay covered for long, as the dramatic reveal of his bald melon has become as crucial to his act as confetti is to Rip Taylor's.
His radio-ready music was pretty popular with the ladies, too, especially surly-sweet ballads What About Now and Over You, both of which filled the arena just fine. For the latter song, he told the sing-along crowd: "If you don't know the words, it's real simple." Truer words have never been spoken.
Daughtry has a distinctive wail that can sell even the most corporate of rock. Case in point: his band's incredibly earnest, sweetly dorky cover of Foreigner's Feels Like the First Time. As a lead-in to his smash hit Home, he even played a snippet of Motley Crue's Home Sweet Home. He may not be the most dynamic performer, but he treats every word like gospel.
With the beer lines mighty, and the venue's temps getting steamy, Bon Jovi took the stage and proceeded to live by the hits — and die by the new stuff. The band opened with the title track from 2007's Lost Highway, a country album that proved to be as dull live as it is on disc. Alas, they played great chunks of that, including the brutally dumb We Got It Going On.
But the female-strong crowd would wait with googly-eyes and patient smiles until Jon, Richie Sambora & Co. played something they liked. And that the group did, alternating new songs with old faves: Born to Be My Baby, You Give Love a Bad Name and the downright cheesetastic Bad Medicine.
Bon Jovi has been doing this for a long time, and it certainly knows its strengths. Even with crummy material, the 46-year-old Jon would flash some chest or shake his fanny and the moms would scream as if he were playing the best song ever. (He wasn't; he was playing The Radio Saved My Life Tonight). He uncorked a short acoustic set in the middle of the crowd (including Bed of Roses) and slapped every hand on the way back. And in his most winning moment, he did a killer Mick Jagger impression during a winky cover of Start Me Up.
Using the talkbox or a double-necked doozie, Sambora played for all the air-guitar goofballs in the house, unleashing every solo on It's My Life or Runaway or Have a Nice Day as if he were in great artistic anguish. (He should have been grinning ear-to-ear after getting off easy from a recent auto-and-alcohol misadventure.)
The band cruised into the finale with a couple of crowd-pleasers, including Keep the Faith and a Livin' on a Prayer that was better than it had to be. After an encore version of the new I Love This Town (ugh), Jon asked everyone to rise "for our national anthem": Wanted Dead or Alive, a great country song that doesn't try too hard to be a country song.
In the end, as a rock show, it was fine. As a girls' night out, however, it was no doubt sublime.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.