Florida Georgia Line, the hit-making country duo, likes to do things its way. After sending "Cruise" to the top of the country charts for a record number of weeks in 2012, the duo did a remix version with passé rapper Nelly and the tune cruised to No. 4 on the pop charts, as well. This year, FGL enlisted Backstreet Boys, the passé pop boy-band, to sing on "God, Your Mama and Me" and the song zoomed to No. 1 on the country lists.
Now FGL has done the near-unthinkable — headlined a stadium concert in Minneapolis without ever having headlined an arena show in the Twin Cities. That's a huge leap that was rewarded with a sell-out crowd of more than 35,000 on Saturday at Target Field to see the mix-and-match lineup of FGL, Backstreet Boys and Nelly.
FGL was able to back it up with the right amount of party songs, heart-tugging ballads, spectacle, energy, sweat and collaboration. It wasn't as exciting as recent Twin Cities stadium concerts by country superstars Luke Bryan or Kenny Chesney, but the evening suggested that FGL could essay more stadiums on its current arena-dominated Smooth Tour.
Saturday's show certainly indicated that Twin Cities music lovers under age 35 embrace multiple genres. The fans seemed as enthusiastic about Nelly's hits — even the ones from 2000-2002 — as they were for FGL's current radio favorites. Nelly, the 42-year-old pride of St. Louis, commanded the stage with his aggressive but friendly manner and catchy and enduring songs including "Ride Wit Me" and "Dilemma."
Nelly, who thanked folks for supporting him for 18 years, may have received a more rousing reaction than Backstreet Boys, who reminded the crowd they've been around for 24 years. While BSB plugged their ongoing gig in Las Vegas, it was obvious that their act doesn't translate effectively to a giant stadium stage. Working without a band or a backdrop (just a bank of lights), BSB looked lost onstage. They danced but not in an exaggerated way that projects to spectators sitting a football-field away in the upper decks.
Sure, fans sang along with "Quit Playing Games (with My Heart)," "As Long as You Love Me" and other dated mush. But the white-clad Backstreet Boys, who range in age from 37 to 45, couldn't figure out how to compel with their choreography and visuals as they have in recent arena appearances.
FGL came out blazing, with fireworks and flamethrowers onstage and in unoccupied outfield seats. That's no surprise because Tyler Hubbard, from Georgia, and Brian Kelley, from Florida, have WWE written all over them. Hubbard wore his camouflage undershirt, ripped blue jeans and backward ballcap with redneck pride while more fashion-conscious Kelley sported pigtails, a beige Indiana Jones hat, shredded designer jeans and a stylish vest.
Hubbard, 30, handled most of the lead vocals even though he's only the second-best lead singer in the duo. Kelley, 31, has a prettier voice but it's less distinctive than Hubbard's nasally drawl. The buddies shook it like they meant it onstage, especially during "Smooth." The island-flavored hit "Sun Daze" was a welcome change of pace in a repertoire that's light on catchy songs.
"This Is How We Roll," one of their dozen No. 1 hits, may be FGL's most hummable tune. But the most indelible moment of the night was the encore, especially when Backstreet Boys and FGL, all wearing Twins jerseys, partied hard on "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," prowling the stage with the kind of abandon and joy found in both great country and great pop performances.