It's just country, bro: Luke Bryan trots out 15 years of hits at the Saddledome

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By the time Luke Bryan asked the audience if there were any hunters in the house Wednesday night at the Saddledome, the house had already been quizzed on its makeup numerous times.

Bryan was asking about the hunters and anglers in the crowd as a prelude to performing his rollicking good-ole-boy hoedown, Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day. It was early in the set and an early highlight as Bryan and his band turned the number into a  extended banjo, duelling guitar and honky-tonk piano jam. But by that point the audience had already been asked if there were any tequila drinkers in the house . . .  or whisky drinkers in the house . . .  or red-wine drinkers in the house.

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Granted, those queries came from Chayce Beckham, one of the opening acts, before Bryan was even on stage. But it succinctly summed up the mood on the opening night of Bryan’s aptly titled Mind of A Country Boy tour, which he kicked off in Calgary to an appreciative and sold-out crowd.  It’s doubtful many were expecting a cerebral evening with one of mainstream country’s earliest and  most successful purveyors of the bro-country, a label Bryan apparently dislikes but has done little to remove himself from in the past 15-plus years.  While Wednesday night’s performance was certainly predictable, it was never boring.  Bryan more than made up for his somewhat limited sphere of interests — girls, drinking, country living,  listening to the radio in his pickup truck with his girl, more drinking  — and musically formulaic sing-a-longs with a tireless exuberance.

 Fresh from a lengthy, 2022 residency in Las Vegas, Bryan proved himself to be a consummate showman and an extremely amiable one to boot, slamming through hit-after-hit with both polish and energy. True, there wasn’t a lot of variety in the opening salvo, which was made up of giddy runs through paint-by-number anthems such as Kick the Dust Up, Knockin’ Boots, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, What Makes You Country and But I Got a Beer in My Hand. But was anyone really expecting variety? 

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It’s not as if Bryan is immune to celebrating the simple joys of country life and slamming back brews. But unlike some of his peers who insist on cranking out leaden, self-righteous ballads about small-town life or joyless redneck anthems about their supposed bad-assery, Bryan seems to at least have a sense of humour about it all. Yes, there a certain absurdity to a 47-year-old man singing lines such as “boys like me need the girls like you to kiss me,” but his grin suggests he is in on the joke.

On Wednesday night, Bryan checked all the boxes for a polished Nashville show. There were the aforementioned anthems and extended jams and some effective ballads, including a lengthy run through Strip It Down. At one point his backup band gathered around him Hootenanny-style for a series of songs that included a possibly impromptu (but probably not) medley of Brian Adams songs, a nice version of the mournful Drink a Beer and tasteful take on Buy Dirt, the ballad he recorded as a duet with Jordan Davis.

As it becoming the norm, the Saddledome show featured a generous near four hours of music, with two opening acts. That included Saskatchewan’s Tenille Arts, who smiled through some unfortunate sound gremlins that made her song introductions hard to hear. She nevertheless offered a strong opening with catchy country-pop numbers such as Back Then, Right Now and Last Time Last. Beckham, an American Idol winner, also opened his set with his strongest material, including the Steve Earle-esque Devil I’ve Been and Heartland rocker Waylon in 75 before offering a suitably swaggering cover of Tyler Childer’s Whitehouse Road.

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To end the night, Bryan returned to the stage sporting a Flames jersey for a one-song encore of That’s My Kind of Night. Interestingly, at one time this 2013 hit was held up as an example of country music’s ongoing identity crisis and deep divide — Entertainment Weekly called it a ‘civil war’ — after Zac Brown declared it to be “one of the worst songs I’ve ever heard.”

Yup, this hard-rock/bro-country mashup  still sounds positively goofy. But it’s hard to deny its infectious qualities when thousands are singing along. There may be nothing revolutionary going on in the mind of this country boy, but the hits still please the masses.

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