Much has been said about Kane Brown’s stylistic malleability and natural ease with a variety of pop modes, traits he emphasized all over 2018’s Experiment. Brown hasn’t always shown the same level of comfort performing that music in a live setting, not having had years to work out his stage moves before being thrust in front of audiences. But at the Huntsville, Alabama stop of his Live Forever Tour on Thursday, the Georgia native appeared to be relaxing into his new role as an arena headliner and eager to show off different aspects of his artistry.
Descending from a platform located center stage, Brown began his set with the crunchy, swampy tones of “Baby Come Back to Me,” taking his time to address all corners of Propst Arena. He kept the momentum high through “What Ifs,” thanking the crowd for making it his first Number One song.
“Alabama came to party! I like it, come on,” said Brown, backed by a full band that included one utility player who switched between banjo, fiddle and steel.
Not long ago, Brown could come across stiff during live performances, as if singing and moving were mutually exclusive disciplines. At Thursday’s show, he frequently combined the two, spending his time out on the catwalk and even shimmying his hips during the more groove-driven numbers like “Weekend” and “Good as You” or punctuating his uptempo tunes with an enthusiastic “whoop!” It was still more of a subtle tweak, because the thing is, the audience didn’t need flashy dance moves to buy in to Brown’s deeper cuts — they were already familiar.
Brown didn’t talk much between songs, his stage banter largely consisting of “How’s everybody feeling tonight,” “Alabama!” — there was a begrudging “Roll Tide” at one point from the avowed Georgia Bulldogs fan — or “How many of you like to…” as a segue to the next song. But when Brown set up the more serious “Learning,” he engaged the crowd with stories about abuse, racism and poverty he’s known, then merged that with a message of support for military service and the relative freedom afforded by growing up in the United States. A couple songs later, for the gun violence statement “American Bad Dream,” a flurry of news station reports on shootings whirled together into a dizzying roar before the first notes rang out. Meanwhile, the stage was bathed in vivid red light as a video screen behind Brown’s band flashed cards with words like “reality,” “fake” and “why.”
This growing confidence as a performer came through in Brown’s singing as well. His resonant baritone was at its best on songs that presented more of a challenge, whether on more soulful material or his rangy ballads like “Work” and “Homesick.” Ironically, a few of the songs that were melodically simpler, like “Hometown,” felt less steady.
At one point, Brown offered up a road map of influences and current listening with what he called a “mashup.” It turned out to be more of an extended medley that leapfrogged between All-American Rejects’ “Gives You Hell,” Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me,” Kris Kross’ “Jump, Jump” and Marshmello’s “Happier.” This section was bookended by appearances from his supporting acts, including Granger Smith (who took a verse on the Nineties-country throwback “Short Skirt Weather”) and RaeLynn, who handled Becky G’s part on “Lost in the Middle of Nowhere.”
The main set came to a rather abrupt ending after “Pull It Off,” to the point that the audience didn’t immediately grasp that Brown had left the stage. But they returned almost immediately, giving an encore that consisted of the Number One hits “Heaven” and “Lose It.” The latter raised the energy inside the arena to peak level, with members of the audience screaming ecstatically between Brown’s verses. It’s a good thing Brown’s finding his legs as a performer — he’s going to be playing a lot of big rooms in the years ahead.
The Live Forever tour heads to Columbia, South Carolina’s Colonial Life Arena on Friday.
“Baby Come Back to Me”
“Love You Sober”
“Good as You”
“American Bad Dream”
“Saturday Nights” (Khalid cover)
“Short Skirt Weather” (Granger Smith guests)
Medley: “Gives You Hell” (All-American Rejects), “Stand by Me” (Ben E. King), “Jump, Jump” (Kris Kross), “Happier” (Marshmello)
“Lost in the Middle of Nowhere” (RaeLynn guests)
“Pull It Off”