With the crowd on its feet long before BRANTLEY GILBERT hit the stage to “Read Me My Rights,” the standing-room-only audience at the Dow Center was deafening as the Jefferson, Georgian walked onstage in a black Sturgis t-shirt with hacked off sleeves. Over 17 songs and an extended acoustic section, the back-to-back PLATINUM selling songwriter/outlier rocked his country and sang his truth with an uncompromising intensity that met the crowd’s roars.
Gilbert’s songs hold the life, love and values of hard-working people on the frayed edges of the American Dream and last night, they were out in full force.
“We wanted to kick this tour off in the heart of the heartland,” Gilbert said of starting his BLACKOUT TOUR in Saginaw, Michigan, in January following the blistering set. “I wanted to go where the people work hard, throw down and really needed the party… Saginaw is all that, and then some. I looked in those faces – and I knew: those folks meant business.”
Blasting through songs like “Hell on Wheels” and “If You Want A Bad Boy” before even taking a breath, the audience sang “Dirt Road Anthem,” which picked up a 2012 CMA Song of the Year nomination and scored Jason Aldean a #1 hit. Over the course of almost 100 minutes, he and his 3-guitar-driven band played major hits and a few surprises, including a down’n’grinding take on Hank Williams Jr.’s “Outlaw Women.”
From the 3-D sequence that evoked “Sin City” that Milwaukee’s Blend Studio Studios’ 10-man team helmed by Nick Waraska – a veteran of such films for Harley Davidson — spent almost a month rendering to the final notes of the banjo’n’slide guitar-drenched “Bottoms Up,” Gilbert and the audience were one. Whether it was the “that was then, this is now” video of Gilbert and his wife Amber that rolled behind a hushed “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,” the fan-tendered images – over 1,000 received in the first hour alone – moving across the screens for “That Was Us” or the black and white cartoons that melted into the video for “Stone Cold Sober,” the production pushed the songs without eclipsing the music or the man making it.
“I like the idea of the screens and stuff going on, but I never want it to be more important than the music,” explained Gilbert. “People come to have that moment, to show us by the way they sing and cheer and throw their fists in the air how much these songs mean to them. Me and the band want the fans to know we know these songs mean a lot to you. It’s why we play so hard, and try to give them room to rock, too.”
Brantley Gilbert’s always pushed the edge when it comes to music. The renegade Country star will play 27 North American arena shows — interrupted for Gilbert to Queensland, Australia for the CMC Rocks QLD at Willowbank Raceway on March 12 – over the next three months.
“This is why I do this,” Gilbert offered, all adrenalin and raw vocal chords. “Taking it to the people; I wanna tell the truth and see it in their eyes. My fans know what I’m talking about, and they come for that. Starting out with such a great crowd, lets me know – after 11 possible set lists – this is what people are looking to see. And that’s everything we’re looking to do.”
Gilbert takes his rocking fans seriously. With shows tonight at Lexington’s Rupp Arena, then Indiana State’s Hulman Center on Saturday, the BLACKOUT TOUR is finally underway – and its rocking as hard as expected. For tour dates and more, visit BrantleyGilbert.com.