“They Don’t Know” came out yesterday, a fact that Jason Aldean made sure the audience knew last night, the first of two at Fenway Park. So it was odd that not only was the country star seven songs deep before he touched on his new album, he only bothered playing three of its songs on a tour ostensibly meant to promote it. Then again, all but two of the night’s songs were country top 10s (including a passel of chart-toppers), and one of the stragglers came from the new album, so time will tell on that one.
As it was, a parade of hits isn’t a bad strategy, even if many of them were grinding, metallic snarls in the shape of thunderous party anthems. The riff of “Take A Little Ride” could have come from AC/DC, while “The Only Way I Know” had a burbling “Sweet Emotion” bass intro. But the band wasn’t always calibrated properly; the soft melancholy of “This Plane Don’t Go There” begged for a lighter touch, while “Lights Come On” was somehow less forceful than it sounds over the radio.
Aldean himself was neither a master showman nor a powerhouse vocalist. His voice never really moved from a nasal midrange, not while calling for a full-on rock and roll party (”Lights Come On”), not while overcome by a swoon (”Tonight Looks Good On You”), not while rapping (”Dirt Road Anthem”). He nearly opened his throat on “Tattoos On This Town” and “Amarillo Sky,” but raising his pulse in “A Little More Summertime” merely put his voice more firmly in his nose.
But while “unassuming” doesn’t sound like the stuff of superstardom, it was somehow enough for Aldean. He sang about struggle and pride in “Amarillo Sky” and the song lifted up from the stage, and “Big Green Tractor” benefited from a slow, hard-kicking swing. Perhaps the new album includes more like those. We’ll find out on the next tour.
Kid Rock has long fancied himself a chameleon who moves effortlessly between rap, rock and country, but his subheadlining set indicated that he’s actually just repulsive in any genre. He was a shameless, insincere panderer disguised as a salt-of-the-rim populist, best exemplified by him mysteriously materializing chunky hornrim glasses for his sensitive-country-weeper turn on “Picture” before losing them as soon as the song ended.
A Thousand Horses opened with an overly serious set that was at its best when they were aping the Black Crowes aping the Rolling Stones. Thomas Rhett followed, aiming to be a country Bruno Mars but lacking the magnetism to get away with pillaging from various unrelated genres – funk, rap, disco, soul/pop – which is why the simplicity of “Die A Happy Man” worked best, just a singer with a great song.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.