June 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

Country's Luke Bryan provides perfect soundtrack to a spring evening

Double-headers are increasingly rare in today’s concert industry, and only a handful of performers have lined up multiple-night stands in Metro Detroit this year.

British boy band sensation One Direction has a pair of Ford Field shows on tap in August, and the dual pairing of Eminem and Rihanna will take over Comerica Park for two nights in August.

The other two acts are country performers: Jason Aldean has a pair of concerts lined up at The Palace in October, and Luke Bryan kicked off his sold-out two-night engagement at DTE Energy Music Theatre on Wednesday night. He performs another show at the venue Thursday night.

Aldean and Bryan are two of country’s biggest artists, and as country has slowly evolved into mainstream rock (and mainstream rock has become alternative, and alternative rock has become “indie,” and so on), they are now two of music’s biggest rock stars. So Bryan may have done a few licks of George Strait on Wednesday night (during a mid-show breakdown, he did a piece of “Unwound”), but mostly his was a straight-ahead rock show, with some cowboy hats and boots in the crowd thrown in for good measure.

Bryan is a crowd-pleaser and a good-time guy, and if he’s not smiling ear to ear at any particular moment, he’s only a few seconds away from flashing another huge grin. (Even during the mid-tempo breakup ballad “Someone Else Calling You Baby,” he was still showing off those pearly whites.) This is a guy who has put out six (six!) Spring Break-themed releases, and he proudly carries the party-country torch lit by Jimmy Buffett and Kenny Chesney. (Though compared to those island dwellers, Bryan is more of an inland kind of guy; he’d rather sit on a dock and drink a beer, as he did during “Drink a Beer,” than hang in the Caribbean in board shorts and sandals.)

Bryan’s show Wednesday toasted to good times, cold beers, small towns and fond memories, all the stuff of successful modern country. He and his six-piece band churned through 17 songs in 95 minutes, and Bryan has been at this long enough that he’s a confident showman with a fun, laid-back on-stage demeanor. The songs weren’t challenging, but were well-honed and safe, a perfect soundtrack to a hearty spring evening. And rather than dampening the night, a late-night downpour only added to the fun, making a few more memories for the crew on the lawn, who were soaked and loving it.

The production was simple, with a shortage of gags (Bryan’s guitarist stood on a riser a few times, but that was it) and an emphasis on efficiency. Bryan got a few chances to improvise, and in those moments he shined: When he sat down at his piano only to find out it had no sound (“roadie! I need a roadie,” he beckoned), he dove into the first few lines of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” just for kicks. (He started into it with his band, but his guys couldn’t pick it up.) He then did a few bars of Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and “Night Moves,” fudging the lyrics on the latter and then kindly asking the crowd to keep the moment to themselves. “Please don’t YouTube that, by the way,” he said, laughing. “That’s the first time I’ve played either one of those songs.”

He brought out his opening act, Cole Swindell, for “This is How We Roll,” and Swindell was back on stage along with opener Lee Brice for “If You Ain’t Here to Party.” A cooler full of old-school Miller Lite cans was brought on stage, and the three rifled through them like Stone Cold Steve Austin during his in-ring celebrations. If this tour isn’t sponsored by Miller Lite, mistakes are being made.

Bryan is pop enough in his approach that he made seamless segues into Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” (during “I Don’t Want This Night to End”) and Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty” (during closer “Country Girl”). Neither was an abrupt shift, nor did they disrupt the flow of the show in any way. Once was a time when country was in totally different spheres than pop music, but those walls have been broken down, and Bryan continues to plow through the rubble. Everyone is welcome to crash his party, and Bryan is all smiles.


Tanya Moutzalias