Walter Tunis: Nothing stops Luke Bryan

Contributing Music WriterFebruary 20, 2014 

Luke Bryan Performs

Luke Bryan, whose scheduled Jan. 17 concert at Rupp Arena was postponed by damaged equipment, plays a sold-out show Friday.

RALPH FRANCELLO — AP

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    The Robert Cray Band at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center: With Valentine's Day mere hours away, Robert Cray decided to close out this sold-out performance with a somewhat sobering take on the holiday.

    The finale tune was Time Makes Two, a song propelled by string-like synths that tightened like a noose as the verses progressed, mallet-played drums that made the music seem less like the blues and more like a processional, and guitar work that shelved Cray's scholarly soloing abilities in favor of broad, fearsome rhythmic sweeps. And then there was the voice, always the Grammy-winning bluesman's ace-in-hole. It possessed a gospel fervor that simmered until the song's telling chorus brought the music to a boil: "Time makes two. ... It takes two to heal a broken heart."

    Well, folks, they do call it the blues. Cray exuded a cool and amiable stage presence and preferred echoes of Stax-style soul and assorted rhythm and blues accents of equal vintage to pepper his material in lieu of conventional 12-bar blues tunes and the kinds of guitar solos designed as exercises in self-torture. Make no mistake, though. This was the blues — all of it topical and much of it refreshingly blunt.

    But the concert's primary charm, outside of abundant vocal and guitar strengths, was Cray's ability to make some of his darkest songs sound so disarming. An extraordinary case in point was Poor Johnny, the highlight tune from Cray's underrated 2005 album, Twenty. The song's protagonist, a street kid swept into a life of quick riches with immediate consequences, is doomed almost from the get-go. Yet the song unfolded with a percolating neo-reggae groove, chilled keyboard sounds that mimicked B3 organ and vibraphone, a series of clean but desperate guitar breaks and a vocal performance that tastefully used Cray's still-youthful falsetto as punctuation. It was a brilliant moment.

    Cray's '90s material — specifically the churchy The Forecast (Calls for Pain) — and newer tunes such as Great Big Old House (big as in abandoned) added to Cray's robust valentine, which was delivered to the Lyric audience in a shade of especially becoming blue.

Luke Bryan, Lee Brice, Cole Swindell

7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Rupp Arena. Sold out.

Let's try this again. Luke Bryan — the current Academy of Country Music's entertainer of the year and perhaps the hottest country star of the moment — is in town Friday. And again — or still — his concert is sold out.

In fact, the singer's popularity is expanding so quickly that he has chalked up another page of accolades since he was originally scheduled to play Rupp Arena last month.

Touring behind his fourth studio album, the platinum-selling Crash My Party, Bryan postponed his Jan. 17 concert at Rupp after his stage was damaged during the load-out of a concert the previous evening in Columbus, Ohio. The original Rupp date was to have been just the second show of Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night Tour" — a performance that was, like the Columbus concert and every stage outing on the singer's 2013 tour schedule, a sellout.

The Bryan hit express has certainly endured no commercial setbacks as a result of the Rupp postponement. Quite the opposite. First, he has added another No. 1 to his growing list of chart-topping singles. The song Drink a Beer had spent the previous 11 weeks in the Top 5. It was the third No. 1 to be released from Crash My Party.

Next up is the seemingly unending string of sold-out shows. Since January, Bryan has sold out every date on the first leg of the tour, including a Jan. 25 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. He is already set to return there in September for another performance that is — you guessed it — sold out.

Bryan will set his sights on even bigger stages this summer. Three days before the Rupp show was to have taken place in January, the singer announced that he was becoming the latest country music celeb to make the leap from arenas to stadiums. Bryan will headline a concert in June at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, and August dates at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and Soldier Field in Chicago.

Need more? How about word of the only scheduled show in 2014 where Bryan will not be the main attraction? On Sunday, he will provide the pre-show entertainment for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Florida.

All of this news was generated by Bryan over the past month. Obviously, postponing an arena show for a few weeks doesn't seem to be causing so much as a hiccup within the supernova popularity the singer is enjoying.

But Bryan isn't the only artist to benefit from the rescheduled Rupp appearance. Opening act Cole Swindell, whose current radio hit Chillin' It became the top selling debut single of 2013 by a solo male country artist, will now get to appear in Lexington as an album act. Swindell's self-titled debut album was released Tuesday. The occasion was marked by his national television debut that evening on The Late Show With David Letterman.

Swindell, along with Friday's second opening artist, Lee Brice, will remain on the road with Bryan throughout 2014.

Two from Natasha's

Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade, has two fine encore shows to round out the weekend.

Longtime Kentucky bluesman Nick Stump, who has played local and regional stages for more than three decades, returns to Natasha's on Friday with his Blues All-Stars band. (9 p.m., $9. (859) 259-2754. Beetnik.com.)

Then on Sunday, Brooklyn, N.Y., charter school teacher turned Nashville songwriter and song stylist Nora Jane Struthers, along with her bluegrass-flavored acoustic roots band, The Party Line, returns to the venue. (8 p.m. $10.)

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