Saturday, August 24, 2013

Country Boy, Shake It For Me

Luke Bryan Wants You To Crash His Party

Luke Bryan’s kind of night (according to the lead song on his new album, Crash My Party) involves laying you down and loving you right. And in case you don’t get the message loud and clear, he will gladly demonstrate what lies in store, as evidenced at his live shows. Here’s a taste, artfully compiled by someone set to Thun Thun music. This is NSFW.

If you’re reading the rest of this review after having had to have a lie down, you’re not alone. Luke Bryan has made a steadfast leap onto the booty stage of country hunks in recent years, something that hasn’t hurt — anyone or anything. It certainly hasn’t hurt his record sales or votes for Entertainer of the Year.

The other thing that hasn’t hurt is that his records are really really good. They are well written, well crafted songs that feel unforced and melodic. His general themes — country life, drinking, girls — work well for a guy who comes across as someone you’d want to hang out with. This album is anchored by his first single from it, “Crash My Party,” but it’s anyone’s guess as to which other songs will be singled out for radio play, as they are all contenders.

Bryan’s voice is like motor oil running through cogs, making them glisten. It’s not full of power, but lovely in a ballad, and you get a rare glimpse of him letting go in “Run This Town” when he whoops and hollers towards the end.

The Inky Jukebox did the math and decided that the Target Deluxe edition, which contains four bonus tracks, was the best value. Indeed, the extra songs don’t feel like add-ons, but part of the album as a whole. The day it was released, The Inky Jukebox went to go buy it only to find nothing but empty shelves where it had been. A copy was procured at a Target with a demographic less likely to be hit up by country music fans, but it was still the very last one on the shelf.

If you don’t mind, The Inky Jukebox is going to watch that video again.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jason Aldean’s Night Train Thunders Through Pittsburgh

Aldean and Owen Will Rock Your Face Off: 
First Niagara Pavilion, August 16th, 2013

Jason Aldean

When the night train rolls through Homestead PA, it makes a long, mournful sound as it snakes around the river, which can be heard from The Inky Jukebox’s bedroom. It is a distinctly American sound, and one which has inspired musicians for generations with its preponderance for metaphor.

Jason Aldean’s Night Train Tour, named after his latest album and single, also rolled through the Pittsburgh area last night, but it made quite a different sound. It rocked your face off.

Actually, it made The Inky Jukebox’s ears feel like they were going to explode because the engineers had turned the amps up so loud it was painful to be anywhere near the front of the lawn at the First Niagara Pavilion. The Inky Jukebox has been to a great many concerts, but this was by far the loudest — perhaps to reach the largest number of people possible, as the sell-out crowd was packed past capacity, with areas normally off-limits opened to concertgoers. So The Inky Jukebox did something she’s never, ever done before: moved further back.

View from mid-hill

That being said, Jason Aldean’s show was the best live music experience so far this year, which is saying something, given the stellar line-up. It wasn’t the most flashy; it didn’t involve the most stage banter; it wasn’t the biggest spectacle — but he delivered pitch-perfect hit after hit non-stop all night, in an unabashed rockfest designed to rattle your teeth and leave you chanting “USA! USA!” along with the punch-drunk crowd. (You know a show has been a winner when 23,000 people break into spontaneous patriotic chanting.)

The Inky Jukebox was actually just pleased to get into the venue, something that wasn’t possible last year, when she missed the show due to a traffic jam approaching the amphitheater exit which must also have prevented thousands from seeing Aldean and his tour mate, Luke Bryan. The year before that, there were so many cars that The Inky Jukebox was forced into overflow parking in somebody’s field a mile from the venue and missed the opening act (Chris Young). One can safely say that Aldean has been very popular in these parts for a long time.

Of course, Aldean has many more hit songs from which to draw this time around, and the crowd around The Inky Jukebox wanted in particular to hear “Night Train,” which was duly delivered at the end of the evening. Further up on the hill, every word was sung with gusto by happily drunken fans, clinging on to one another in sloppy groups or couples, dancing.

One of the highlights of the show was when Kelly Clarkson appeared as if in the flesh (and a red dress) via hologram to sing the duet “Don’t You Wanna Stay.” When a guest star comes out to sing a duet, you want it to knock your socks off, to be even better than the record, and this was. There is nothing remotely like hearing Clarkson’s real-life vocal power, hitting notes mere mortals could never reach. That she wasn't actually physically present was something you couldn't detect from the hill, which was astonishing. 

Aldean’s stage presence has matured too. Whereas two years ago he shuffled nervously on stage from one side to another with nary a word to recognize the crowd, this time around he prowled confidently, delivering an extended ad-lib introduction to “1994,” and pausing to raise a toast to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who as of this writing are at #1. Calling out a town’s sports teams is a good way to connect with them, and this was location-specific in a way that didn’t feel Hello Cleveland! (In a related note, When Aldean mentioned Justin Bieber as part of an anecdote, you never heard such a thunderous boo. “Y’all hatin’ on the Beebs!” he remarked.)

Jake Owen

Pairing Aldean with perennial opening act Jake Owen was a great match, as both have the same audience and general delivery. Owen too has matured as a performer in recent years, getting accustomed to playing larger gigs with an ever-increasing set-list of his own hits. He always provides an energetic set, bouncing around the stage barefoot, with a solid band. He kicked it off with “I’ll Go Anywhere,” the up-tempo leading track form his last album, and ended, surprisingly, with a brand new song — something The Inky Jukebox has never seen an artist do before. It’s always something of a risk to play unheard songs, and Owen dropped this one on the crowd at the peak of his set. The Inky Jukebox and the rest of the packed crowd were not let down: “Days of Gold” proved to be a pumped-up anthem that is sure to be a huge hit.

Jake Owen levitates!

During set change-overs, the crowd was entertained by DJ Silver, who spun popular tracks, which is a nice touch at a show. However, the way he fiddled with the tempo of the songs and broke in with his own comments during key lyrics left the crowd unable to sing along the way they wanted.

And finally, The Inky Jukebox has been itching all season long to write a post about badly dressed concert-goers, but has shied away. This guy, however, is a hero and his cause needs to be aired. Sir: the ladies hear you loud and clear. 

Awesome Aviators!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Worst of the Best

Rolling Stone Produces Another Completely Irrelevant List

It’s been a while since The Inky Jukebox had a Rolling Stone rant, so it made perfect sense for the latest issue to really yank our chain. It’s a theme issue, purportedly to showcase “The Best Live Acts Now (The Greats And What Makes Them Great).”

There’s no point, really, in getting upset about their list of “The 50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now” because it’s so predictably and outrageously silly. Sure — there are some undeniably good live acts on the list (#1 is Springsteen, duh, and Jann Wenner would have bust an artery is the Stones had been placed any lower than #3), and we understand that this list is going to be a mix of mega-money makers and smaller acts, but when whole genres of music are shut out the list is meaningless. Who is Tame Impala? Who is Janelle Monรกe? Who is The National? Who are the Sleigh Bells?

Where is Kenny Chesney? Where are Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan? Where is Eric Church, for Gawdsake? (He’s #40!) Taylor Swift comes in at #49, just ahead of that “Stadium Slayer” Fiona Apple. I’m calling her that because a few pages later, that’s what Rolling Stone calls Swift. Seriously? Fiona Apple?

What on earth could be the reason behind this grotesque absence of country acts? (And don’t tell me that Rolling Stone is all about rock music which is why they can ignore country — have you seen how much hip-hip it covers?) The answer can be found when you see the line-up of “experts” they polled. Out of 24 people, the breakdown is as follows: Music Industry Execs = 8; Rolling Stone and other journalists = 4; musicians = 12. But let’s take a closer look at the alleged musicians, shall we? There’s extremely relevant Perry Farrell, Pete Wentz, Trey Ansatasio, someone from Fall Out Boy, someone from a long-named band I don’t have the patience to type out, BOTH Tegan and Sara, and always fair-minded Lars Ulrich. It’s a hipster convention. Shockingly, the lead singer of Alabama Shakes was a voter and her band made it to #16.

On page 48, there is a mini-article called “Because Country Is Where Arena Rock Lives” and it has the underhanded slap of an insult. Every single positive thing mentioned is credited to an old rock act, as if country acts have nothing of their own to offer but mimicry. Rolling Stone assures readers that these acts play plenty of rock covers (by the Rolling Stones!), employ stage designers from rock acts, and imply that even Eric Church, whom they evidently admire, borrows heavily from Metallica (thanks Lars!). As long as mainstream media fail to account for the inherent strength of country acts and treat them like pale imitations of the dinosaurs of old, they will never get a fair break.

Monday, August 5, 2013

No BS: Blake Shelton at Pittsburgh, Aug 2, 2013


Blake Shelton has a pensive moment

The Inky Jukebox does not know whether Blake Shelton, experienced entertainer that he is, should be taken at his word when he appeared taken aback at how populous and exuberant the Pittsburgh crowd was on August 2. It had been years since he’d played in the area, and his star has risen in recent years by dint of his role as a coach on The Voice. From what The Inky Jukebox heard, a number of concert-goers were there to see what he was all about for the first time. We’d like to believe he really meant it, that he wasn’t just delivering schlock when he expressed his appreciation. Why? Because Blake Shelton appeared to give his all and delivered a rollicking good show.
He may have said he was nervous, but he sure didn't seem it. 
What makes a good show, you ask? Well, playing hit after hit after hit helps. Playing them well doesn’t hurt. 
An acoustic set out in the audience
The banter with the crowd in between songs was not only detail-oriented (referring to actual people in the actual crowd), but funny as hell. It doesn’t matter if the old hidden-mullet-in-the-hat trick was a tad predictable; the way he pulled it off made us all laugh out loud. We did not LOL; we laughed our asses off. 

Some beach, somewhere. 
Mr. Shelton can also really play and really sing, and he makes being on stage look effortless.

Here’s Shelton singing his hit “Home” after getting the crowd to twinkle their cell phones. It was purdy.

Footage courtesy of The Inky Jukebox

The crowd at the First Niagara Pavilion was thick and in the mood to party, and sang along to every word. 

The hill already packed for the opening acts
They were even out in force for the opening act, country music nice boy Easton Corbin, who gave a solid set of the old-school country style, liberally sprinkled with fiddle leads and lap steel. He delighted all by pulling out two bang-on covers: Brooks and Dunn’s “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” and Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas.”

Easton Corbin
Corbin was preceded by actress-turned-country cutie-pie Jana Kramer, who flitted about the stage in an outfit designed to please (the boys): tank top, leather hot pants and Louboutin heels. 

Well hello, Jana Kramer. 
With her long dark hair and legs for miles, Kramer is one of those ladies who is clearly always the hottest girl in the room (or amphitheater). It’s no wonder Brantley Gilbert said “I’ll have her, thanks.” She can sing just like she does on her records, needing no celebrity partner to carry her weight. The line to meet her after the show was LONG.

The more he drinks, the more he drinks, the more he drinks. 
Go see Blake Shelton. The man is a born entertainer and gives you your money's worth and then some. He's no BS; he's the real deal.