Monday, July 27, 2015

Kenny Chesney, Jason Aldean concert review: Pasadena, Calif.

photo by Armando Brown
If Kenny Chesney ever decides to quit music, he'd be a fine motivational speaker. The country music superstar has a knack for making people feel good about life, which comes across while talking to fans and within the song lyrics.

On Saturday at the Rose Bowl, two of the biggest tours in America this year - Chesney's Big Revival and Jason Aldean's Burn it Down - came together for a mega throwdown. The 6 1/2 hour event was the first time the Pasadena venue hosted a country concert. One of 10 such stadium mergers, it drew close to 54,000 people. 

Before Chesney got started, some ladies with air cannons shot out t-shirts like at an Angels game. His usual welcome video montage was updated from previous jaunts. No stranger to dramatic entrances, the singer kicked off the energetic two-hour Pasadena show with "Drink it Up" while sitting in a chair attached to a harness. He traveled across the field before landing onstage. 

The 24-song set included numerous top 10 singles, plus a few covers. AC/DC's "Whole Lotta Rosie" was sung by the female bassist and rocked hard; John Mellencamp's "Hurts So Good" came amid a fun encore section featuring Jason Aldean (the latter's voice was slightly better suited for it). 

Among the standouts: "Summertime," which thrilled the singalong happy, beer-hoisting crowd; a wistful "I Go Back," the punchy "Beer in Mexico," exhilarating double shot of "Living in Fast Forward" and "Young," where a tireless Chesney jumped around and his guitarist laid on the floor; last year's big hit "American Kids" (a prime example of how to work an audience). 

Frequently conveying gratitude, Chesney capped the main set with sports ballad "The Boys of Fall." He said it was an honor to perform in a "place where football means so much." Overall, the sound was excellent - no easy feat in a stadium. 

photo by Armando Brown
Aldean put on an explosive 85-minute show - and not just because of the ample pyro employed. 

Together with his tight band, they rocked out at strategic moments (opening salvo "Hicktown," "My Kinda Party," "Crazy Town," crunching closer "She's Country") and utilized programming or hip hop elements ("Burnin' it Down," "Dirt Road Anthem," current No.1 "Tonight Looks Good on You") without coming across as forced. 

But the pedal steel-sweetened tunes (a heartfelt "The Truth," "Flyover States," "Tattoos on This Town") were ultimately more satisfying. Fans sang along loudly and gave Aldean's winsome take on Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down" a rousing response.

Brantley Gilbert's outlaw music and image was an awkward fit with the co-headliners. His 45-minute performance filed with harrowing songs about good 'ol boys raising hell got a tepid reaction from my section (some people nearby said they weren't big fans).

A sound mix that left Gilbert's sandpaper vocals buried under the constant barrage of guitars didn't help matters. The instrumental Metallica and Motley Crue teases were useless. The only saving grace was "You Don't Know Her Like I Do," a chart topping ballad inspired by Gilbert's new bride that showcased his upper register. 

"Are you ready to party?" asked Cole Swindell, before his jubilant 25-minutes on stage. Constantly moving and mixing it up with people, the gregarious singer had no problem getting some dancing and audience participation going, especially during hits like "Chillin' It," "Hope You Get Lonely Tonight" and "Ain't Worth the Whiskey."

Newcomer Old Dominion did a solid set for early arrivals baking in the heat. Comprised of some of country music's top songwriters, the band often mixed spoken verses with harmony-laden choruses. The breezy "Break Up with Him" and pleasant, synthesized "Snap Back" (from the forthcoming debut album) fared best. 

A version of my review originally appeared at

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