December 14, 2012 – Alfond Arena, University of Maine, Orono, Maine
What sort of music do you like? I get that a lot. I think people expect me to have some favorite genre, rock or metal or blues. I don’t do genres. I listen to what I like, and I like music with interesting lyrics, intelligent arrangements, and satisfying grab-you-by-the-throat energy. I usually prefer live shows to studio work. I like artists who look engaged with the audience. I like to leave a show wishing it had been longer. See where I’m going with this? I like Brantley Gilbert.
So let’s do this…
With a “Let’s raise some Hell” as he came on stage, Gilbert started the show with “My Kinda Party.” A massive hit, as you certainly know, for Jason Aldean, this is Gilbert’s song. We can thank him for all those images of jacked-up tailgates, muscadine wine, and holey jeans. Immediately interacting with the crowd, the arena was in full swing, and that would only escalate as the set progressed.
Following up with “Hell on Wheels,” the guitar riff peeled out and the hands were in the air. “Ridin’ 95 down the highway sideways runnin’ from old John Law. I got the booze in the boot, move it over Bo Duke, make room for a real outlaw.” This song is a movie script – an action-packed 3D show. I think of Maine as more of an Allen’s Coffee Brandy state, but in case anyone wants to know if the reputation of moonshine is true just let me tell you that yes, it will kick your ass.
Next was “Dirt Road Anthem,” again Gilbert’s song but popularized by Aldean. The crowd went into orbit. Well, what do you expect? Dirt road? Smoke blowing out the window? Knock your loud ass out? Anthem is exactly right.
Easing up a bit with David Lee Murphy‘s “Dust on the Bottle,” Gilbert kept the crowd engaged even as he came off the throttle. The next four songs – “Saving Amy,” “You Don’t Know Her like I Do,” “Them Boys,” and “My Kind of Crazy,” were slower still, performing the last three acoustically from the truss in the center of the stage. Adding harmonies and broadening these songs from the album version, the energy of the show didn’t drop, the crowd’s interest didn’t waiver.
This is when I started to wonder about a few things…
Brantley Gilbert is growling vocals, muscles, tattoos, lyrics full of outlaws, busted knuckles, romance, and high powered country rock. Short on twang and long on back roads, he jaws with the crowd about being a Georgia boy. And it all works. But I’m not buying the simple good old boy routine, Mr. Gilbert. There is more going on here than down home raising hell and a guitar. This is genius. Now I could be wrong, I’ve overestimated people in the past, but in my line of work sizing up people has been a lifesaver. Here’s what I see – whether rowdy or a ballad, Gilbert’s songs are clever, full of emotion, full of iconic themes that draw in listeners, and full of catchy phrases. The lyrics are welded to melodies that are rich and expansive, memorable and layered with interest, never sweetly sentimental or gimmicky. Young men love the songs because they wish they were really that guy. Young women love the songs because they really wish they had that guy. Add Gilbert’s stage presence – welcoming, genuine, and connected to the fans. He is willing to bend down and offer his hand and even run to grab something special for two little girls on the barrier. He has the magic power to conduct the whole GA pit to bounce in perfect rhythm just by extending his arm out over the crowd. No, Mr. Gilbert, your mumma may have raised you to be humble, but you are a mastermind at creating music that stirs the imagination and putting on a show that rocks the arena. Excellent.
Enough of that, back to the show.
After slowing down, it was of course time to start the engines again. Reminding the crowd that there comes a time when you’ve got to “stomp somebody’s ass,” the band tore into “Take it Outside” with a thumping, comin’ to get you drum line. Just as I expected, Gilbert went to the truss, raised his arm, and lead the pit once again in perfect synchronized hands in the air appreciation for fist fights everywhere. Impressive, I must say. This man gets the crowd to just eat out his hands. Next in line was the hit, “Country Must Be Country Wide.” I looked around at the sea of Carhartt, camouflage, and skin tight jeans. Yes, Virginia, there is redneck Santa Claus. “Hell on an Angel,” performed in tribute to Gilbert’s mother having suffered through his challenging young years thrilled the crowd. If there was ever a question if the crowd was having a good time, this erased all doubt. “More Than Miles” and “G.R.I.T.S.” closed the show with a showcase of guitars before a thundering, bass driven encore performance of “Kick It in the Sticks.” If you have never been to a pit party, well, just turn this song up. You’ll get the picture.
Then we all had to head back out into the cold, ease out of our dreams of southern dirt road adventures, and just go home. Tomorrow was a school day.
Gilbert’s show was given a resounding two thumbs up the next day in class. The young women sparkled, as I expected, and the young men grinned. Students were eager to share how much they enjoyed the show – the music was great and the showmanship and audience connection was appreciated and remarkable. Zach Boucher declared “it was a fantastic start to the college concert experience.”
This was my second time seeing Brantley Gilbert. Earlier in the year we caught him as an opening act for Eric Church. He was great that night, and he was even better this time – owning the audience, giving a flawless performance. See you on your next trip through, Mr. Gilbert. Maine is eager to see where your career heads from here. Keep in interesting. I like interesting.
Special Thanks for my UMaine students for sharing their impressions of the show.
Set List –
My Kinda Party ~ Hell on Wheels ~ Dirt Road Anthem ~ Dust on the Bottle ~ Saving Amy ~ You Don’t Know Her Like I Do ~ Them Boys ~ My Kind of Crazy ~ Take it Outside ~ Country Must be Country Wide ~ Hell on an Angel ~ More Than Miles ~ G.R.I.T.S ~ Encore – Kick it in the Sticks