The young female fans screamed as if Ed Sheeran were onstage. They sang along as if Shawn Mendes were onstage. They shot cellphone videos as if — OMG — Taylor Swift were onstage.
But it was Dan + Shay onstage at the sold-out Armory in Minneapolis on Friday night. And the 8,400 fans — predominantly women in their teens and 20s — treated the duo like hot pop stars even though Dan + Shay are burgeoning country favorites, with five No. 1 songs, one of which recently crossed over to pop, the wistful but not boozy “Tequila.”
The clean-cut, dark-haired duo, who just won two Grammys, drive in a safe lane between the rhythmic pop of Top 40 radio and the hip-hop-infused country dominating Nashville. In other words, it’s a twang-free, 1970s lite-rock sound — with lyrics that tug at a young woman’s heartstrings — that appeals to a wide mainstream audience in 2019.
Lead singer Shay Mooney has a luxe tenor, the prettiest male voice in Nashville since Vince Gill, but with more range and depth. With Dan Smyers harmonizing, they have an alluring blend, much more so than Florida Georgia Line, Brooks & Dunn or any other popular male country duos. Vocally, Dan + Shay sound a bit like 1970s soft-rockers Loggins & Messina — only better — delivering syrupy songs worthy of Air Supply.
Beyond songwriting, harmonizing and producing, Dan’s role is part Energizer Bunny and part hypeman in concert. He bounded hyperactively around the Armory stage with or without a guitar. And he knows how to get the crowd riled up with his words.
“This is the most people we’ve ever had headlining a show for us,” Dan declared midway through the duo’s 90-minute performance. “We looked forward to this show more any other ever in our career. This is absolutely insane.”
That may sound like your teenager talking, but Dan is 31 and Shay is 27. And both are happily married. (They mentioned their wives were at the show.) But their four backup musicians — including Minneapolis keyboardist/guitarist Izaac Burkhart — are single, they said.
Dan + Shay have all the clichéd rock-concert ploys down pat.
“Where are all the single ladies in this place?” asked Shay after “Can’t Say No,” during which he operated a hand-held live video camera.
But, these two stars weren’t really about the visuals. They’re about standout vocals on highly romantic if bland songs with explosive Rascal Flatts-like choruses.
“Speechless,” a recent No. 1 country smash about how she makes her man feel, is destined to become a wedding slow-dance staple when the fans at the Armory get hitched. Maybe more relatable for the young concertgoers was “19 You + Me,” Dan + Shay’s first hit, from 2013, about being 19 and having a summer fling.
And there was the closing “Tequila,” with Shay getting all melancholy about a relationship that has ended. Despite the title, this tune is not about intoxication, it’s about romantic reflection.
If the hit-making duo played it sweet and safe, opening act Morgan Evans played it sweet and sloppy. A one-man band with antic music loops à la Ed Sheeran, he charmed the young women at the Armory with his hits, including the bubblegum-y “Kiss Somebody,” as well as the party tunes “Day Drunk” and “Young Again,” which sounds like an Irish drinking song.