Every frat has one goof who just loves to dance, who leaves his brothers back doing shots at the bar to hit the floor with their girlfriends (it's OK, they trust him), and who really wants you to know he knows all the words to “Bust a Move.” Turns out, that guy can fill a brand-new, $1.1 billion stadium with 46,000 ticket-buying Minnesotans. At least Luke Bryan can.
I'm short-changing the unassumingly likable country superstar's versatility. He's not just that guy. He's also a regretful ex-boyfriend (“I See You”), an obsessive outdoorsman (“Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day”), an inclement weather apologist (“Rain Is a Good Thing”) who's equally appreciative of drought conditions (“Kick the Dust Up”), and a doting truck owner who whispers beery lies about small towns and how great you look in that dress, girl (too many to list).
Luke Bryan is whatever that-guy you want. And the gals in the stands Friday for the very first concert at U.S Bank Stadium? Oh, they very much did want.
At 40, Bryan packs his aging athlete's bod into T-shirt and jeans as mercilessly and effectively as he scrunches twangy diphthongs into single vowel sounds. Explosions, fireworks, lasers, fire pits, and upwardly shooting jets of fog vied unsuccessfully with Bryan's ass for attention as he bounded across stage, sometimes throwing in a modified jumping jack that, yeah, I know sounds like it shouldn't have worked.
Bryan is careful not to overuse his signature move: a stripperish gyration that's never too graceful or too aggressive to feel sexually intimidating. Like his penchant for recycling outdated hip-hop slang, it's a way of saying: We're all here to party, no need to play it cool. This, to quote the Florida-Georgia Line collaboration he performed last night in Minneapolis, is how we roll.
To break in the new really-USBS-is-what-we're-calling-it-oh-whatever, Bryan took off his ball cap (which he sometimes but by no means all of the time wore backwards -- told you he was versatile) and sang that fan favorite, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” And he sang it well enough! (If there's one thing I cannot stress too often about Bryan's singing, it's that it's good enough.)
Bryan also repeatedly mentioned local NFL franchise the Vikings, who, in his mistaken estimation, will win multiple Super Bowl victories. Maybe he was just being polite? Then again, at another point he suggested that ice shanties are good places for “making children,” so could be Bryan's just an optimistic guy.
Things heated up mid-set with “Strip It Down,” which I always find pretty sexy until that line about "cowboy boots by your little bare feet" makes his sweetie sound like a toddler. (I mean, how small are her damn feet anyway? Is this a medical condition?) Next, Karen Fairchild, from opening act Little Big Town, joined Bryan for “Home Alone Tonight,” which is on the uptight side for a drunken hookup ballad, says me, but hey, whatever gets you through the night.
The other three members of Little Big Town then emerged to assist on “Thinking Out Loud,” the Ed Sheeran hit (speaking of people who probably have little feet), then segued so seamlessly into “Let's Get It On” that Marvin Gaye's heirs may seek to admit a recording as evidence. Mid-medley, all five singers downed tequila shots, ripped through a chorus of Joe Nichols' “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off,” and unsuccessfully scoured the crowd for a bachelorette party.
Bryan's show was weakest when his band flexed its chops. During “Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day,” the singer traded licks on acoustic guitar with his banjo player, building up to an overheated instrumental jam so desperate to soar it was like Bryan thought he could turn the song into “Freebird” through sheer force of will.
He was much better at paying lip service to country music, as when his other support act, Dustin Lynch, returned to the stage (wearing a Minnesota Wild jersey), and the two men tossed Miller Lite cans out to the masses and sang Brooks and Dunn's “Play Something Country.” In case you forgot, that song's about a gal who gets pissed at a DJ for bumping a P. Diddy jam, which pretty ironic or knowing or whatever considering what we were about to witness.
Bryan's ecumenical pop tastes generally serve him well -- in 2016 there's no point in pretending country kids didn't grow up on the same rap radio hits as everyone else. Still. Bumping a mix with “a little Conway, a little T-Pain,” to quote Bryan's “That's My Kind of Night,” is one thing. A little Steve Miller, a little Will Smith? Come on, son.
Bryan strayed from classic-rock staple “The Joker” into Biz Markie's “Just a Friend,” the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Tupac's “California Love” (reworked as “Minnesota,” which “knows how to party”), and Kool Moe Dee's (Will Smith's?) “Wild Wild West” for one interminable karaoke nightmare pile-up of drunken caucasity.
Bryan was more at home with the Alabama cover that followed his shout of “Y'all wanna go old school?” and, even, when it emerged from the tail-end of set closer “I Don't Want the Night to End,” Taio Cruz's “Dynamite.” Bryan encored with “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” which orders women to dance with an almost Ying Yang Twins level of insistence. The country girls didn't mind. Luke had shaken it for them all night. Least they could do was return the favor.
Overheard in the crowd: “The smokers paid for this stadium and we can't even smoke in here.”
Critics bias: I'm not the best judge here, I admit, but is Luke's ass really all that great?
Notes on the opener: Little Big Town showed off their four-part harmonies on a nice selection of covers: Alicia Keys' “Fallin',” Fleetwood Mac's “The Chain,” and a quick acoustic take on Prince's “When Doves Cry.” Also, apparently LBT's Jimi Westbrook summered here as a kid. (His shout-out to the 'burbs: “Brooklyn Park, what up?”)
In glammy silver pants and a long purple coat that created a look perhaps best described as “Shania casual,” Karen Fairchild purred perfectly through LBT's hit homoerotic triangulation, “Girl Crush.” P.S. Lori McKenna wrote that song and her new album, The Bird & the Rifle, is fantastic.
Random notebook dump: I curse the way our new squatly obscene entertainment fortress dominates my view whenever I drive up 55 into downtown, and at closer range I'm not much more impressed. Inside it looks like ... a football stadium, I guess? A new football stadium?
Don't ask me: I didn't come to this show to dance about architecture. The packed concourses disoriented attendees and crowds outside had an even harder time navigating the heavily fenced grounds and escaping to the street. Nothing another $1 billion can't fix, I guess.
To get to my seat, I passed through something called the Hyundai Club, which exudes the swanky black-lit ambiance of a cutting-edge bowling-alley lounge. (Maybe they have electronic pull tabs available there.) I was disappointed to see a counter offering “State Fair Favorites,” with Andrew Zimmern's name on it no less, that pretty much just sold cinnamon rolls. Misleading!
The crowd: “I am not a mathematician,” Bryan informed the men in the audience at one point, “but guys, you are outnumbered 10 to one here tonight.” Yep.
Rain Is a Good Thing
Kick the Dust Up
I See You
This Is How We Roll (Florida-Georgia Line cover)
Drunk on You
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
Crash My Party
Play It Again
Strip It Down
Home Alone Tonight (with Karen Fairchild)
Thinkin Out Loud (Ed Sheeran cover) / Lets Get It On (Marvin Gaye cover) (with Little Big Town)
Play Something Country (Brooks & Dunn cover) (with Dustin Lynch)
Huntin', Fishin' And Lovin' Every Day
Drink a Beer
Medley: The Joker (Steve Miller Band cover) / Just a Friend (Biz Markie cover) / The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Will Smith cover) / California Love (Tupac cover) / Wild Wild West (Kool Moe Dee cover)
Mountain Music (Alabama cover)
That's My Kind of Night
I Don't Want This Night to End / Dynamite (Taio Cruz cover)
Country Girl (Shake It for Me)