Monday, July 31, 2017

Justin Moore concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Miguel Vasconcellos/OC Fair
“I never thought that song would be so popular in Orange County, California,” exclaimed Justin Moore, referring to “Small Town USA.” 

The fact that fans in Costa Mesa sang along loudly to his first country chart-topping hit on Thursday shouldn’t have been a surprise. 

Artists from the genre tend to fare well around here, regardless of hometown population or income. And many people can relate to hanging out on a Saturday night with their baby by their side.

Taking the Pacific Amphitheatre stage to an old Western movie theme song, Moore and his band kicked off the 75-minute, 15-song set in spirited fashion with “Hank It.” The rowdy ode to Hank Williams Jr.-styled machismo from Moore’s gold-selling, 2009 self-titled debut album immediately had people on their feet, hoisting cups of beer and waving turkey legs. “Backwoods” sizzled with some swampy guitar work.

This no-holds-barred show utilized an extensive stage design and production typical to much larger venues. Whimsical 2015 hit single “You Look Like I Need a Drink,” an early standout featuring images of Moore branded light beer on the screens, was the first of three songs off last year’s solid “Kinda Don’t Care.”

Moore’s third album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard country chart, it saw the Arkansas native expand his usual sonic terrain a bit by blurring styles and utilizing instrumentation (synths, programming) more in line with what’s common on country radio these days.

“Somebody Else Will,” the sensual, R&B-leaning current top 20 single, was a key example. Before starting the song, Moore instructed, “we don’t do a lot of love songs, so gentlemen, here’s your opportunity” to snuggle. Several cowboy hat-sporting guys responded in kind with their gals.

Driven by honky tonk-style piano and guitar, the title track to “Kinda Don’t Care” (about being tired of trying to be good by dieting, going to church, etc.) was a welcome change of pace. Constantly smiling, Moore frequently worked both sides of the stage, shook people’s hands and prompted singalongs (that seemed like demands).

The life-affirming, “Til My Last Day” evoked the best Kenny Chesney material. Equally stirring No. 1 ballad “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” was prefaced by a touching introduction where Moore talked about family, moving back to his tiny hometown, losing a grandfather and supporting the military. The latter topic was a cue for two female fans to raise a flag banner.

Then it was full-on energy the rest of the way, from an organ-driven “How I Got to Be This Way” and hard-rocking “Small Town Throwdown” (originally a top 10 duet with Brantley Gilbert and Thomas Rhett) to the somewhat lunkheaded braggadocio of “Guns” leading into “I Could Kick Your *** and bright and catchy closer “Point at You.”

Up-and-coming young Sacramento native Tyler Rich opened with a pleasant half-hour modern country set often reminiscent of Sam Hunt – albeit with fewer rap cadences. Rich fared best during the danceable “Just Like That” and “California Grown,” off his “Valerie” EP, which name checked fellow Cali singer Jon Pardi and got a rousing crowd response.

My review originally appeared in the OC Register.

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