REVIEW: Dierks Bentley shows Sands Bethlehem Event Center crowd what he … – Allentown Morning Call
Dierks Bentley’s music is catchy enough to have given him 12 No. 1 songs (nine of them gold or platinum) in less than a dozen years and taken five of his last six albums to No. 1. But truth be told, it’s not extraordinarily different from much of what’s big on country radio these days.
Bentley is a decent musician and surrounds himself with a talented band, but he’s also not so good as to be distinctive or distinguish his sound. His voice is average at best.
What sets Bentley apart so that he not only packed Sands Bethlehem Event Center on Friday but made it a great show is that he takes all those elements and elevates them with an engaging personality and fun, energetic performance.
So that middling songs such as “Tip It On Back” or 2008’s No. 1 gold hit “Feel That Fire” are made better by his slow-and-seemingly alcohol-infused singing and his emphatic presentation.
“I’m like a local bartender who likes to have a few with his patrons,” Bentley said at one point, and it was true – much of what was likable about the show was how Bentley ingratiated himself to the listener.
Later, he seemed even more perceptive when he said that after playing amphitheaters this summer, the event center was ”like being in a really big club .. like a kick-ass rock bar.”
It really did feel that was, and Bentley did plenty in his 18-song show, which lasted just short of 90 minutes, to promote that feeling. He even “shotgunned” a beer on stage, though it looked fake – not a single drop was lost from the can.
He opened with three No.1 hits: “5-1-5-0,” which was thumping rock with a banjo; “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),” which was more studied and nuanced; and “Am I The Only One,” which was more traditional country, only with a big guitar.
He made frequent local references, saying he had stopped at the C.F. Martin guitar factory before the show and was playing both his longtime favorite (he has worn a hole in it) and his own signature model on stage(though he mistakenly said it was “made right here in Bethlehem, Pa.”)
And he said that when he arrived in town, he “jumped off my jeep and cracked a Yuengling,” making reference to the Schuylkill County-brewed beer. “It’s a special town, a special night,” he said.
Those comments prefaced another good song, his 2006 No. 1 hit “Every Mile a Memory,” which he started alone in a spotlight on acoustic guitar and sang slow – his imperfect voice better capturing the song’s intensity.
On “Bourbon in Kentucky” – among just four songs he played from his newest disc, “Riser” – he squeezed his eyes shut as he spit out the words.
He also used elaborate staging, with a floor-to-ceiling video screen behind him and a high second level to which he took his five-man band to play “Up on the Ridge,” the title cut from his 2010 album.
By halfway through the show, it was apparent how much Bentley grows on you when he played one of the night’s best, “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do.” He charismaticly jumped around stage as the song nicely chugged along highlighted by lap steel guitar.
His biggest stumble came when he chose to do two covers –OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars” (he wasn’t up to it and it’s a bad song anyway) and Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On a Prayer” (which he tied to a story about his first concert experience).
In a show that was less than 90 minutes and skipped some significant songs, such as the No. 1 “Settle for a Slowdown,” it wasted too much time – though the crowd did loudly sing the chorus to “Livin’ On a Prayer.”
But he closed very strongly, starting with a good performance of his newest single, the slower and lighter “Say You Do,” then starting alone on acoustic guitar at the end of a walkway into the crowd on the No. 1 hit “Come a Little Closer” before the full band kicked in.
He closed the main part of the set with his breakthrough hit, 2003’s No. 1 gold “What Was I Thinkin’,” for which he put on a cap backward and bounded around the stage.
The encore was even better, starting with his recent platinum hit “Drunk on a Plane.” The song, which last week won the Country Music Association Award for Best Video, is simply fun, and again Bentley’s imperfect voice captured its loose lunacy perfectly. The crowd even sang an extra verse a cappella at the end.
Then he brought opening act Eric Paslay out for a chugging, tumbling, fun “Sideways” before closing with another of the night’s best, a five-minute “Home,” starting with him alone in a spotlight on acoustic guitar and building with its sincere, lump-in-your-throat patriotism.
At the end, he brought a little girl on stage, autographed his guitar and gave it to her.
But it was an earlier song, the 2013 No. 1 old hit “I Hold On,” that best captured the night. Played as the penultimate song of the main set, it was driving and building, full of nice sentiments. And Bentley sang it with passion.
“I’m not sh-tting you,” he told the crowd, “This is one of the best Friday nights I’ve had in my life.”
The best part was that, after his show, you could believe him, and many in the audience probably felt the same way.
Supporting act Randy Houser canceled because of illness. Bentley said from stage it was “legitimate”; Houser had played on the rooftop of the Nashville bar Tootsies in cold weather recently, and when you do that “you’re gonna get sick.”
Opening act Eric Paslay played a longer set – nearly an hour – to compensate. He opened his 13-song set strongly — his mellow-horn voice was nice on “Here Comes Love” and “Never Really Wanted,” on which he slipped into Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” And he sang Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and Love and Theft’s “Angel Eyes,” both of which he wrote.
But with just one album released in February, it was obvious he was short on material. He ended up playing an ill-advised cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” before recovering with Eli Young Band’s “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” which he wrote with Will Hoge.
But he made himself a “Well Respected Man” with his best — “Less Than Whole,” which he transitioned into “Amazing Grace.” He also played his hit “Song About a Girl” and closed with a chanty, driving version of his 2013 gold hit “Friday Night.”
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