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Table setters HARDY, Wilson shine ahead of Aldean

FivePoint Amphitheatre, Irvine, Cal., September 25, 2021

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Jason Aldean opened his headlining set with "Crazy Town," which includes the line "with a touch of twang." In Aldean's case, that touch of twang must have been represented by his steel guitar player. However, you could only hear this steel guitar part once in a while because its contribution was like an overmatched MMA fighter, where electric guitars and booming drums clearly dominated. If you enjoy your rock and roll with just a touch of twang, this Aldean concert was for you.

With its hit-filled setlist, this stop on Aldean's "Back In The Saddle" tour wasn't really much different from any other Aldean show. The only new wrinkle was when Aldean sat at a piano – yes, a piano – and sang "If I Didn't Love You" along with Carrie Underwood's hologram. By the way, Underwood's hologram sure gets around, as it accompanied Brad Paisley during one of his recent visits a few years ago.

With songs like "Amarillo Sky" and "Fly Over States," Aldean sings more about country, than actually singing country songs. With that said, songs like "Burnin' It Down" and "Any Ol' Barstool" are effective, enjoyable songs, even though they don't live up to the country music standard for many. As a performer, Aldean is more of the strong, silent type, only speaking when absolutely necessary. That's probably why pyrotechnics were employed now and again, just to keep the audience's attention.

Tonight was a night when the opening acts clearly outperformed the headliner. HARDY preceded Aldean with a loud, but also emotionally compelling set of songs. He is, as one song put it, unapologetically "country as hell." Yes, he's a little obnoxious – like Toby Keith and Kid Rock can be. However, HARDY comes off much more sincere than either of those two artists. When he sang "God's Country," a hit for Blake Shelton, he let the audience sing its two-word title. It came off like a patriotic hymn, with all these fans singing it loud. He dedicated "Boyfriend" to his fiancé, and to a couple that announced their engagement in the pit up at the front of the stage. Lyrically, it's a smart and compelling argument for making it official and getting hitched. He sang his hit "One Beer" with another opener, Laney Wilson, which was an enjoyably special treat.

Although the sexily trim Wilson strangely opened with a snippet of Queen's "Fat Bottomed Girls," this Louisiana native filled her set with real country music that sometimes brought Lacy J. Dalton's spunky music to mind. She closed her short set with "Things a Man Oughta Know," which just happened to be the number one country song at the time.

John Morgan, who is signed to Aldean's label, opened the night unannounced, accompanied only by his guitar and a percussionist, with a pleasing set of traditional country music.

Not to knock Aldean, but this concert would have been even better if the running order had been reversed, with HARDY and Lainey Wilson at the top of the bill. Instead, anyone that arrived on time, got the best moments of the night, first.



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