“You know what makes you country?” asked country music megastar Luke Bryan to a packed Fenway Park. “Rolling your [butt] into Fenway on a Friday night for a country music concert.” Bryan celebrates this tautology: What makes you country is loving country music, and loving country music means being “proud of what makes you country,” as he sings on his sixth and latest studio album.
Still confused? Trust Bryan. He knows a thing or two about country — at least, this country. The 41-year-old son of a Georgia peanut farmer has sung the national anthem at the Super Bowl, judged a season of “American Idol,” twice won the Country Music Association’s “Entertainer of the Year” award, and for five years has been barnstorming the nation on a seemingly endless series of tours.
At Fenway, his only New England stop on this year’s “What Makes You Country” tour, Bryan rocked an aesthetic perhaps best described as Nashville ex-boyfriend: a white henley, black-red hat, gray boots, blue jeans, and a three-day stubble. He spent most of the show out on the walkway in front of the stage, where heavy spotlights gave an otherworldly glow to his tanned skin and pearl-white smile.
His 90-minute set, featuring many of his most beloved anthems, opened with the sultry ditty “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” and the back country bump of “Huntin’, Fishin’, and Lovin’ Every Day.” They define Bryan’s brand of country: distorted electric guitars, uptempo ballads in a major key, and lyrics concerned mostly with women, alcohol, trucks, and shenanigans in small towns. (The real gems have all four.)
Bryan’s verve felt boundless. Even the fireworks that opened and closed his set seemed to burst with less kinetic energy than the singer himself. He gyrated his hips like Elvis (seductive), purred like a cat (less so), cracked open a cold one (during “Drink A Beer”), took a tequila shot (after an otherwise sober acoustic ballad), and surprised with a ballpark favorite, “Sweet Caroline,” which lifted all of Fenway to its feet.
The evening’s highlight was a singalong to “Most People Are Good,” as wholesome and rosy a number as any in pop music. “I believe we gotta forgive and make amends,” Bryan sings, “’cause nobody gets a second chance to make new old friends.” The song contains a veiled reference to sexual acceptance (“I believe you love who you love/Ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of”), the evening’s closest brush with anything even vaguely political.
To hear tens of thousands belt in unison that “this world ain’t half as bad as it looks,” that somehow “most people are good,” felt cloying and spectacular, an impossible and sublime distillation of our collective capacity for optimism. After all, this is America. And maybe that’s country.Graham Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.