Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
"I'm the king of awkward," proclaimed Hunter Hayes early on during the show in a city that must almost feel like home for the Louisiana native. He had just taken out a guitar to play, but somehow things were not working right, and Hunter was forced to talk with the crowd. He never did quite get that guitar working and switched guitars, but not gears.
He may be awkward - and proved that in a way on this night - but don't tell that to the overwhelmingly young female crowd, who often sang along with gusto. The high schoolers in the crowd knew "I Want Crazy" and "Wanted" among many other songs on this night and Hayes tended not to milk the songs or go for easy cheers.
What helps Hayes is that he has a lot of good songs that translate exceedingly well into a concert setting, and he has the musical chops as well. Hayes is a real good guitar player. He left some of the leads for his other guitarist, Devon Malone, but he also wasn't afraid to take charge.
High energy bass player Matt Utterback was active throughout and along with drummer Steve Sinatra, establishing a very sturdy rhythm section.
Hayes is like many other country acts out there today - he could not be accused of being a particularly heavy-duty country performer. Mandolin, courtesy of Sam Ellis, is the lone obvious country instrument that is part of his musical equation, and it is something incorporated into the music often.
In reality, Hayes is more of a melodic rocker than a country singer. He has a knack for writing songs that get into a good musical groove, not to mention with sing-along potential. And he rode out the songs, not trying to replicate them on stage. A good chunk of them were extended during the nearly 1 3/4-hour show.
Hayes ensured that his new song "Invisible" stood out. The ballad is aimed at allowing people to think it's okay to be different. Hayes told the crowd afterward that he was himself with his love of music. He also underscored for people to embrace their differences to lead them down the path.
Hunter can lay claim to being a nerd - yes, he said he was that as well and was not joking - and awkward, but there is also something endearing about that. Hayes did not come off as particularly pre-packaged, knowing exactly what he would say when. He was not the smoothest speaker going on a few occasions, but in this day of tapes, having your music just so, there is almost something refreshing about Hayes.
But personality alone will not carry the day. With a batch of quality songs and letting loose on stage, awkwardness rules!
West Virginia native Dean Alexander opened with songs that sound like he went to the School of Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan. Not bad, but nothing that you haven't heard before either.