Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hunter Hayes concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

My review originally appeared at Photos by Kelly Swift.

Sunday night, Hunter Hayes fans had no problem giving in to the titular demand of his latest country hit, "I Want Crazy." 

Predominantly young and female, the crowd constantly shrieked with approval, waved handmade signs (my favorite asked "will you marry me?") as well as cardboard replicas of Hayes' face throughout the sold-out Pacific Amphitheatre show. At what was clearly a "girls' night out" for many, group photos seemed to outnumber those of couples before everything got started.

After completing a lengthy arena stint opening for Carrie Underwood, Hayes has been making the fairground rounds this summer. His first major headlining tour alongside Ashley Monroe commences in October.

He also recently released "Encore," an expanded version of 2011's million-selling self-titled debut with a half-dozen new songs. It reached No. 1 on Billboard's country albums chart and features guest appearances by Monroe and Jason Mraz.

In Costa Mesa, where the 21-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist was backed by a five-piece band, Hayes immediately ran onto the bright stage (illuminated by multiple light bars) and launched his 105-minute concert with a high-powered take on "A Thing About You."

Despite some shaky vocals at times (especially during "If You Told Me To"), the new star was still energy personified: he pogoed around, stood on monitors and took turns singing at microphone stands at each corner of the stage. "Storm Warning" got a rousing response and a very loud sing-along; the same held true during "Somebody's Heartbreak."

"Better Than This" bore shades of Bryan Adams' "Run to You." Hayes' electric guitar work there and elsewhere (the smoky ballad "Rainy Season," a rocking "Light Me Up," the full-bodied "Faith to Fall Back On") often recalled the playing of self-professed influences like Keith Urban, John Mayer and Brad Paisley.

Opening act Sara Haze added husky vocals to an extended and disjointed version of "Everybody's Got Somebody But Me," then forgot the lyrics to a verse.

Hayes moved to the piano for the satisfactory, Coldplay-ish ballad "Where We Left Off," from the soundtrack to "Act of Valor," and the heartthrob's minions went absolutely nuts for his chart-topping hit "Wanted."

Toward the home stretch, he asked: "Can we get a groove on?" All the musicians did exactly that amid a taut "Love Makes Me," and although he was playing acoustic guitar at the time, Hayes used a microphone as bottleneck slide.

Mandolin-fueled main-set closer "I Want Crazy" – currently No. 2 and held out of the top spot by the record-setting country chart run of Florida Georgia Line's "Cruise" – capped things on a feisty and fun note.

Haze, the Lake Forest native who put out a promising adult contemporary pop disc in 2009, "My Personal Sky," is now based in Nashville, concentrating on country music and working with top producer Paul Worley. She has opened for Hayes, Little Big Town, the Mavericks and just played the Grand Ole Opry.

Her most current track, "To This Day," finds her collaborating with Colbie Caillat songwriter Jason Reeves. Accompanied by an acoustic guitarist, Haze's pleasant 30-minute Pacific set was highlighted by the expressive "If It's Meant to Be," "Firefly" and the upbeat revenge tune "Famous."

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