Luke Bryan delivered a slew of hits and a brief but satisfying preview of his upcoming album, What Makes You Country, during part of Pandora’s “Up Close With Luke Bryan” concert on Wednesday night in New York. The chart-topping singer and new American Idol judge took the stage in support of his sixth studio album, set for release on Friday via Capitol Records Nashville.
Hundreds of fans lined the surrounding blocks of Manhattan’s chichi Altman Building, waiting in the cold for hours in advance to ensure entry to the performance. Although it was open to the public, capacity was limited to the first few hundred people, which only enhanced the exclusive essence of the concert for the lucky few that gained access, while creating a tense excitement and uncertainty outside for those who were late to the party.
Inside and untouched by the chaos in the cold, Bryan and his eight-piece band were all smiles, flashing through a multitude of mostly hits and touching on only three tracks from his new album. This agreed with the crowd though, as the cheers surged on favorites like “That’s My Kind of Night,” instantly sweeping the room with a college bar feel, and “Play It Again,” which began with Bryan grabbing a fan’s phone and taking a video selfie through the first verse before enticing an entire crowd of New Yorkers to join him in a fervent final call-and-response chorus.
“Kick the Dust Up” rendered a lot of stomping overtop a banjo riff electrified by multi-instrumentalist Dave Ristrim, who also lent some surprising sonic textures to “Rain Is a Good Thing,” which showed the band flexing their muscles on an extended instrumental bridge whose primeval pedal-driven layers carried the heft of a Mannheim Steamroller arrangement. This was merely gasoline on an already fiery crowd, prompting one fan to throw a stuffed Chihuahua at Bryan, who deftly caught the gift with his non-microphone hand before murmuring, “I’m gonna sleep with this thing.” The playful moment carried into a thank-you to the show’s sponsor, FedEx, and subsequently a package-related joke at the expense of lead guitarist Michael Carter. “Im just digging myself a bigger hole,” admitted Bryan with a grin, before grabbing a lantern stage prop and swinging it over his head, igniting the crowd even further.
The antics continued as listeners lit up over “Light It Up,” whose serene synth motifs and electronic instrumentation sounded more like something off Fleetwood Mac’s Tango in the Night rather than the buckshot resonance of “What Makes You Country.” For a song that is lyrically about inclusiveness versus country exclusivity, there was a great deal of fist pumping and downright defiance on the faces of the audience members – Pandora CRO John Trimble was spotted bobbing his head on the new album’s title track.
The energy only soared into “Sunrise, Sunburn, Sunset,” another new one that hearkened to warmer weather, before the penultimate anthem, “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day,” which felt like the truest call to country action that could have been given to a room full of city slickers.
“Thank y’all for comin’ out here tonight in NYC – we gonna breathe a little dirty air but then we gonna go out in the country and do a little huntin’,” drawled Bryan before pile-driving into the concert closer, “I Don’t Want This Night to End.”