“Rain makes corn, corn makes whiskey,” sang country star Luke Bryan during his opening song at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Sunday night. The optimistic tune, “Rain Is a Good Thing,” was fitting considering the much-needed rain that poured down on the Capital Region for most of the day on Sunday before letting up in time for the show, part of Bryan’s 2016 “Kill the Lights” tour.
A massive disco ball lowered from the ceiling just before Bryan took the stage shortly after 9 p.m., as speakers boomed not country music but a club hit by hip-hop artist Flo Rida. Then stagehands killed the onstage lights, green lasers shot from the stage, and Bryan appeared on a riser at the back — dancing and shimmying to shrieks from the fans while backed by his six-piece band.
It’s all about the party at a Luke Bryan show. Some of his “bro country” contemporaries are much more about the musical chops. Brad Paisley, for instance, is a ferocious guitar player, while Jason Aldean is a no-frills performer, hewing to the bro-country themes of partying and pickup trucks while offering little in the way of stage moves or banter.
Bryan, the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year, picked up his guitar only a handful of times during his 90-minute set – and rarely seemed to even play it. Instead his role was to serve as MC for the night’s escapist party anthems – to flash his megawatt smile and bust out hip-shaking dance moves that played up the sillier side of his undeniable sex appeal.
Dressed in tight black jeans, a white designer t-shirt and a black baseball cap that he frequently flipped around to wear backward while running his hand through his hair, Bryan sang about turning a cornfield into a party scene on rural good-time anthem “Kick the Dust Up.” He covered fellow fun-loving country bros Florida Georgia Line on “This Is How We Roll.” “Drunk on You” celebrated summertime and drinking culture. And on “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” Bryan played up his hunky shtick to the fullest – gyrating his hips and blowing kisses to the crowd.
It would all get a bit much, but Bryan has a campy sense of humor and an ever-present grin that makes his sexy onstage swagger seem like a bit of a joke. The 40-year-old singer shimmied and pointed his finger in a jokingly suggestive manner at a handful of young women wearing “Luke” trucker hats during the foot-stomping “Move,” and for a brief moment he broke out a falsetto to sing the start of “Girl Crush,” the big hit by opener Little Big Town.
“We caught some brook trout in the stream today right down here,” Bryan said at one point, referencing Spa State Park’s stocked Geyser Creek. While he hits all the usual bro-country themes of small towns, hunting and fishing, pickup trucks and tailgate parties, Bryan manages to downplay the more obnoxious elements of the genre – the gun worship and aggressive posturing – giving his show much more crossover appeal.
He sang the ballad “Strip It Down” like a seductive soul number, and in two of the night’s highlights, brought out opening acts Little Big Town and Dustin Lynch to join him on stage toward the end of the night. Bryan and Little Big Town singer Karen Fairchild sang a duet on “Home Alone Tonight” before her bandmates joined in for a tequila shot-fueled medley of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
And the night wound down as Bryan and Lynch – in true bro fashion – opened up a cooler onstage and passed cans of Miller Lite into the crowd while dancing like a male strip revue during their cover of the Brooks & Dunn hit “Play Something Country.”