Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dierks Bentley, Randy Houser, Cam concert review: Irvine, Calif.

Dierks Bentley walked back to the B stage Saturday night at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre and held up a Southern California fire department hat that had been given to him by a fan.

“I’ve been thinking about this weekend and how 15 years ago, these guys walked toward burning buildings not knowing what would happen,” the country star said, referring to first responders to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Then he dedicated an uplifting “Riser” to the New York City Fire Department as couples in the audience embraced. Like many of Bentley’s ballads, it resonated deeply.

The same holds true for several songs on his latest album, “Black” – whose lyrical themes loosely revolve around a man who finally sees the light after a series of broken relationships and what the singer calls “the shadows of love.”

Bentley’s first (and last) performance at the packed soon-to-be-shuttered venue was a testament to his average Joe image. The frequently rousing 95-minute, 18-song set included Bentley slapping high fives, downing black cups of alcohol and taking a few swigs from concertgoers’ drinks. One male was even invited onstage for a shotgunning contest (Bentley won).

Kicking off the proceedings with the intense title track of Bentley’s excellent 2010 bluegrass CD, “Up on the Ridge,” the musicians huddled close to play banjo, violin and mandolin. Then came a stretch of upbeat, party-minded tunes perfect for the occasion: “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),” “Tip It on Back,” “Am I the Only One” and “5-1-5-0.”

Bentley’s latest Top 10 country single, “Different for Girls,” featured duet partner Elle King joining him via video. The earthy, thought-provoking song was a highlight. Bentley told the audience that “I Hold On” was one of his favorite songs he’s written about faith, love and freedom and delivered an impassioned vocal sweetened by prominent pedal steel. “Every Mile a Memory” was another standout. The lyrics, paired with milestones from the artist’s life flashing on the video screens, tugged at the heartstrings – especially the final image of his dog, which had died recently.

Not long ago, Bentley appeared on the “NFL Kickoff” pregame show, where he performed the anthemic “Freedom.” The soaring song was also done here and Bentley said, “We’re so blessed to live here and the freedoms we have.”

Laid-back hit “Somewhere on a Beach” went down a storm, and “What Was I Thinking” and the feisty “Sideways” kept everyone amped up. For the encore, an airplane cockpit burst out from underneath the tall drum riser and Bentley emerged in pilot’s gear (he actually has a license and flies) to do a fun “Drunk on a Plane,” during which fans loudly sang along.

Randy Houser’s new album, “Fired Up,” could also describe his solid 45-minute opening set. Backed by a rocking band, he easily got some call-and-response action going on the hit “How Country Feels.” Everyone kicked in full force during an emotional “Goodnight Kiss” (a Top 10 country single), while Houser wailed vocally and shook a towel for effect.

At one point, the brawny singer said with a nervous laugh, “I’m giving it 1,000 percent up here; we need a little love.” He poured his heart out while playing solo acoustic guitar on “Like a Cowboy,” and a dynamic “Chasing Down a Good Time” and the high-energy “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” left fans wanting more. Overwhelmed by the response, Houser said, “You make a Mississippi boy feel like he’s home.”

Also on the bill was the delightful O.C. native Cam – a rising force whose impressive 25-minute set ranged from the simmering anger of “Runaway Train” and the feisty humor of “Country Ain’t Never Been Pretty” to the stomping “Unchained” and the affecting hit ballad “Burning House.”

My review originally appeared at
Photos by Drew A. Kelley 

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