For his next career, country superstar Jason Aldean should perhaps consider doing mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street.
Two years ago on his My Kinda Party Tour, he enlisted Luke Bryan for his opening act. Now Bryan will headline stadiums this summer. On Friday for his Night Train Tour at the X, Aldean hooked up with Florida Georgia Line, country’s hottest act. This may have been the best train merger since the Milwaukee Road and the Soo Line.
As was the case with Bryan, Florida Georgia Line was like a runaway train Friday, upstaging Aldean. The superstar has too many medium-tempo tunes, which may sound just right on the radio but don’t carry an arena show. Playing them loud with lots of 1980s stadium-rock guitar riffs does not an arena show make.
Aldean, a 36-year-old Georgian, comes across a bit like Toby Keith without the heft, humor or larger-than-life personality. He knows how to rock out, as he proved on “Johnny Cash,” one of the rockingest tune ever written about a country star; the main-set finale “She’s Country” with its AC/DC undertones, and the encore of the aptly named “My Kinda Party” and the clichéd but hyped-up “Hicktown” featuring extended guitar heroics (many by Kurt Allison, who is married to a Minnesota woman). And the opener of the 90-minute set, “Crazy Town,” was amped, as well.
But too much of what came in between wasn’t fitting for any kind of party. “Amarillo Sky” is a pretty piece about a drought-afflicted farmer but it doesn’t hold up in an arena setting. “Big Green Tractor,” a pifle that sounds so ’90s, just plowed the momentum into oblivion after Aldean’s moving power ballad, “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” featuring Kelly Clarkson in a life-size hologram that seemed to fool some fans as to whether it was live or filmed.
Although Aldean seemed more energized than last time, his performance overall felt like, with apologies to Gladys Knight, the Meh-Night Train To Georgia.
That’s partly because he had to follow the exceptional Keith Urban in the TwinCities by six days and Florida Georgia Line, who have scored the biggest — or at least most enduring — single in the history of country music. The duo’s “Cruise” spent a record 24 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s country chart last year.
FGL has figured how to navigate the terrain of country music in the now. They use a refreshing if calculated formula: take WWE-like tag-team characters (one redneck, one pretty boy), use Top 40 simplicity, hip-hop cadences, lots of energy, catchy choruses and country-friendly lyrics about trucks, beer, babes, dirt roads, chillin’ and partyin.’
You can take “Cruise” as a face-value chillin’ song or you can read the sexual innuendo to “Baby you a song/You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.” Even on a night too cold to roll your windows down, that tune was infectious with 15,000 fans waving their right arms to the hip-hop beat. For 45 minutes, FGL proved they were the life of the party whereas Aldean merely demonstrated that he can close a deal but not a concert.