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!

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