Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
uke Combs' first of two sold-out nights was a long long time coming. The country star didn't sing his topic-related songs of "Six Feet Away" about COVID (the reason for the exactly one-year delay) or "The Great Divide" about politics. It wasn't that kind of night. Instead, Combs, decked in a baseball hat, simple black shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, showed why he's at the top of the country heap with a thoroughly enjoyable show of singalongs of varying stripes.
Combs has a lot of material to choose from despite releasing only two albums. He got the night cooking with the loud chords of "Cold As You" before fully embracing the song vocally.
He then lit into one of the few out and out country (make that more traditional sounding) songs of the night with "Honky Tonk Highway."
Combs showed a propensity for knowing his way around the uptempo and the ballad. He has scored numerous hits on either end, and both worked just as well in the live setting.
On the uptempo, go for the jugular side, there are the anthemic type of songs like "When It Rains It Pours," "1, 2 Many," "Lovin' on You" and his great take on Brooks & Dunn's "Brand New Man" before closing out the 105-minute show with megahit "Beer Never Broke My Heart" (which means beer songs opened and closed the night).
And then there were songs like the well-written "Even Though I'm Leaving," "She Got the Best of Me," "Better Together" and the big hit "Beautiful Crazy." Whether the more rocking or pensive, Combs and his slightly gritty vocals handled both with aplomb.
But Combs wasn't only about the hits. He reached way back into his deep cut catalogue for "Let the Moonshine" from 2014, a song he wrote while a student at Appalachian State, not the kind of song recent converts would know.
Combs' band was top notch whether on electric guitar or numerous times on mandolin and even a bit of pedal steel. They quickly and ably filled the musical gaps. However, Combs could not be accused of reinventing the songs for the stage. He and his band pretty much replicated the recorded versions, but the live setting at least afforded more firepower.
One could argue that Combs showed respect for his bandmates by letting them take most all of the vocals on Tim McGraw's hit "I Like It, I Love It" and Travis Tritt's "Great Day to Be Alive" while introducing the band. Nice little twist there.
Combs has always come across as a star of low ego. He talked about the sacrifice his parents made for him back in North Carolina. He remembered his roots and also made it clear that he's exactly where he wants to be – performing on the stage, any stage. With that, he performed his heartfelt "Doin' This."
Seeing Combs on this night, one had no doubt, he and his band were most happy being right where they were – no matter how much time it took to get here.
Ashley McBryde's career has been on the rise, and based on her 45-minute set, it was easy to see why. First and perhaps most importantly, she has a lot of really good songs from the musicality of the opening "Martha Divine" to "Sparrow" to the wordplay of the closing "One Night Standards" with its subtle musical build. There's a lot of diversity there. She veered more towards country with aptly titled recently released song "Whiskey and Country Music."
McBryde, like the others on the bill, was an unassuming performer, meaning it was more about the music and being appreciative about their lot in life. It's songs like "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," McBryde's first hit, that make impression for the visions that they create. The song may contain the line "Makin' the best of the worst day kinda night," that would not describe how things went down for McBryde.
Ray Fulcher opened, which made perfect sense for the bud of Combs and not only because of that. After all, he has helped write an amazing 16 songs on Combs's albums "This One's For You" and "What You See Is What You Get." But he does more than that as he now his own record deal and is on the road again.
Fulcher has talent and a sufficient live presence, but his material came off a bit too generic and too much the same live. At least his cover of Sawyer Brown's hit "Girls Like You," sounded fresh. At this point, Fulcher is probably better appreciated in a smaller setting. Nevertheless, with such a meaty repertoire, Fulcher bears watching.
About the only problematic part of the night – and this was intermittent for obvious reasons – was that the square stage in the middle of the floor meant that the crowd saw the back of the particular act as Fulcher, McBryde and Combs made their way around the stage numerous times. Whether this is the best way to view a concert, well, not so sure about that.