Jason Aldean takes his country with a heavy dose of arena rock, as he made clear throughout his set at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night.
For a tight 70 minutes, the Georgia country rocker and his five-piece band ripped through material from all five of his albums, with the focus primarily on heavy guitar riffs, pounding drums and a party-hearty atmosphere that kept the nearly full house on its feet the entire time.
Taking the stage promptly at 9:30, Aldean and company put their heads down and got right to work, barreling through three anthems in quick succession. Set opener “Crazy Town” set the mood early, with Aldean cutting a striking figure lunging into his microphone. “Take a Little Ride” and “Tattoos on This Town” continued in a hard rocking vein, with the band delivering tight performances all around.
New song “When She Says Baby,” off last year’s “Night Train,” was an early highlight, bringing the energy down to power ballad levels. After, it was right back into the rockers with “The Truth” and “Fly Over States,” Aldean’s version of the typical “on the road” song.
Throughout, Aldean had plenty of help from his thundering group. Drummer Rich Redmond started many of the songs with his deliberate pounding, slamming his way through “Texas Was You” and the country royalty namedrop of “Johnny Cash.” Aldean’s secret weapon was lead guitarist Kurt Allison, whose soloing on another new song, “Night Train,” and the slow-burning “Big Green Tractor” late in the set put both songs over the top.
Not everything here worked — “Don’t You Wanna Stay,” another ballad, went well until the cheesy stand-in video for Kelly Clarkson’s duet part came in. But for the most part, Aldean aimed to please, hitting all the right notes and keeping performances tight. The only time the band really got to stretch out was on a cover of Alabama’s “Tennessee River,” which ended with a sudden speed-up that got the crowd cheering. The main set climaxed with “Dirt Road Anthem” and “She’s Country,” two more ferocious rockers that got the audience shouting along.
Up-and-comer Thomas Rhett, son of country royalty Rhett Akins, rocked hard for his 20-minute opening set. As the songwriter behind Aldean’s “I Ain’t Ready to Quit,” Rhett was a fine choice to open this show, and rockers like “Middle Class White Boy” and new single “It Goes Like This” set the tone for the evening perfectly. His best was set closer “Something To Do With Your Hands,” which got the rapidly-filling amphitheater on its feet.
Second-billed Jake Owen also brought a rock ’n’ roll vibe to his hour-long set — opening number “Anywhere With You” featured four electric guitars, including Owen’s, played in tandem. The rest of the set followed suit, with material such as “The One That Got Away” and “Surefire Feeling” pitting Owen’s fiery vocal presence against his five-piece band’s muscular sheen.
Throughout the set, Owen spent almost as much time signing autographs and taking cellphone pictures for the front row as he did milking the audience for applause — and the crowd ate up the rock star behavior. Highlights included the thundering “Yee Haw,” and new single “Days of Gold” off the upcoming album of the same name. But best of all was “Don’t Think I Can’t Love You,” a soulful workout that found Owen working the crowd with all his energy during the song’s climax.