Tuesday night, Florida Georgia Line and a few hundred of their fans, along with a camera crew, rolled through Nashville’s legendary “Rock Block” haunt Exit/In to tape an installment of CMT’s Instant Jam series. The episode airs October 18th, four days after Anything Goes, the follow-up to the duo’s double-platinum-selling debut Here’s to the Good Times, hits shelves. Along with rocked-out, hick-hop hits like “Round Here,” “This Is How We Roll” and the inevitable “Cruise,” the hour-long, eight-song set boasted a trio of tunes from the forthcoming album, including the lead-off single “Dirt” (already a Number One hit) and a summery number entitled “Sun Daze,” in addition to the album’s title track.
Less than an hour before show time, the duo’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley, each sipping on a whiskey concoction of some sort, appeared the calmest two dudes in a crowded green room abuzz with activity. “We usually have a couple drinks before we play — probably a couple more afterwards as well,” Hubbard confesses to Rolling Stone Country. But liquid courage or not, the singer says he and Kelley aren’t encumbered by the pressure to deliver a blockbuster follow-up to a multi-platinum debut.
“We’ve always kind of stuck to the motto of ‘don’t put too much pressure on yourself, just have fun,'” Hubbard explains. “We don’t try to overthink it or stress too much about it. We think this second album’s kind of a continuation of [the last one]. We’ve all stepped up our game on this one.”
“We’ve played a lot of shows in front of 40,000 people in the last year, and this might be one of the craziest shows we’ve played all year,” Kelley told the roused crowd of 350 self-pinching super-fans who’d lined up eight hours earlier to claim their wristbands. Hubbard made such a proclamation a mere six minutes into the set, after the band took the stage to the dinosaurs-marching, apocalyptic sounds of Imagine Dragons’ alt-rock anthem “Radioactive” blasting out of the PA. It was a sign of the ear- and eye-splitting bombast to come.
And it came. Hubbard and Kelley — crammed in with closer proximity than usual to their muscle-bound backing band — wasted no time going for the jugular, kicking into gear with an opening “Round Here,” with its party-ready monster choruses punctuated by blasts of CO2 smoke and an arresting lighting show (and decibel level) fit for a stadium. Even in a club, this is how Florida Georgia Line rolls, perhaps explaining why the supercharged show felt more like an Eighties rock video shoot than an intimate engagement. Or explaining how the duo’s gone from club headliners to seasoned arena rockers in a whirlwind two years and change. Working the room like equal parts rock stars/hype-man emcees, Hubbard and Kelley hardly had to cue the crowd to get arms waiving en masse during “Get Your Shine On.”
“It feels kind of like home,” Kelley said earlier, anticipating a hometown gig at a club not only he’d played before, but country and rock icons from George Jones and Johnny Cash, to Tom Petty and R.E.M. as well. “We got our start in a hotel lobby and built it pretty much from the ground up, and [Exit/In] was one of the steps along the way. It’s a great venue — a lot of history here. These walls are screaming with good vibes.”
The walls weren’t the only thing screaming.
Despite amps cranked to Tufnel levels, the crowd responded to Hubbard and Kelley’s calls to sing along with such fervor and volume on “This Is How We Roll,” that the band had to play the song twice — a second take to make sure the duo’s vocals would be audible on the television broadcast. “I have to sing with you guys the whole time, is that cool?” Hubbard asked the crowd, rhetorically. “Now it’s like we’re at church camp.”
The only songs fans didn’t sing along with were the two Anything Goes jams they didn’t really know (yet). (“Dirt” was received like an immediate entry into the duo’s growing stable of hits.) Unlike “Dirt,” (which, as a slide-guitar-infused ballad, and one of the band’s most country songs at that, is a bit of a departure) Anything Goes continues the duo’s run of “Cruise”-style, outsized, hip-hop-tinged, country-rock odes to partyin’ down South. “Get your party right, it’s a Friday night,” goes the chorus to a song that starts off with a line about bumping Alabama on the boom box.
“Sun Daze” — the last Anything Goes cut of the night, making its live debut — also provided a dirty sonic departure from the hallmark bombast of the duo’s biggest hits. It’s a beach-y, bouncy, Jimmy Buffett-indebted lifestyle tune with a countrified Caribbean dancehall feel and nods to wearin’ flip flops, playin’ flip cup, cornhole and bumpin’ Bob Marley.
Instant Jam: Florida Georgia Line premieres October 18th on CMT.