TAMPA— At the risk of inciting the ire of female country fans, I'd like to point out that singer Luke Bryan has average looks, an average voice, an average country-pop song book.
But — and this is where I win you back, ladies — the Georgia boy nevertheless possesses a whopper recipe for success, the ultimate modern model of crossover keen, displayed with mad-grinning vigor at MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on a record-breaking Thursday.
Plenty of bold-faced big shots have rolled into our outdoor concert shed, whatever it's been called through the years, and sold out the place. Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney made a habit of it. But until Thursday and today, no one in the venue's decadelong history, especially someone with only a few albums, had ever sold out back-to-back nights — some 40,000 fans total.
Luke Bryan, Tampa Bay is yours.
So how does he do it? Consider this: In one 10-minute span of his two-hour gig, the 37-year-old in the backward ball cap covered glam-poppers Maroon 5, rapper Wiz Khalifa, classic rockers Steve Miller Band, all before launching into bluegrass classic Dueling Banjos. That's one heck of a checklist, son.
But wait, there's more! All that was tucked into a flashy good-ol'-boy onslaught of his own cliche-loaded, creatively sterile —but fun, ladies, fun! — 21st century country tunes. Stuff such as the dumb but No. 1 That's My Kind of Night with the deep, telling lyric: "Might sit down on my diamond plate tailgate / Put in my country ride hip-hop mix tape / Little Conway, little T-Pain, might just make it rain."
Bryan randily references spring break more than the cast of Jersey Shore; he purred for the girls, always purring with this guy; he slugged moonshine in salute of the boys, always slugging with this guy.
If you were here for a bachelorette party or a boys night out, he had you covered. And Bryan delivered it all with equal parts swagger and self-deprecation, nothing too serious, not even schmoopy cuts Someone Else Calling You Baby and Drunk on You.
He may be cheesy, but he's never boring, and always sly. His opening act was the red-hot duo Florida Georgia Line, whose radio smash Cruise features hip-hopper Nelly and who are trying — with likable flair, I should add — to mimic that Bryan recipe. (The other scheduled openers, husband-wife duo Thompson Square, was a scratch due to illness, but they nod to Bryan's rockier leanings.)
Bryan has a few legitimately clever cuts, including Rain Is a Good Thing, a lascivious come-on wrapped in an environmentally sound plea, and the downright sexy cowtown club hit Country Girl (Shake It for Me), in which Bryan got Beyonce-low for some booty bumping.
Toward the end of the show, his crack six-piece band uncorked a killer take on Metallica's Enter Sandman, which was no doubt just for his benefit, as there weren't a whole lot of heavy metal fans in the packed house.
Then again, who knows? Bryan is so seductive, hirsute head-bangers may be his next target. Watch your back, Ozzy.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter and Instagram.