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Aldean and friends stretch it out, way out

Irvine, Cal., Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, August 20, 2016

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Jason Aldean's tour, "Six String Circus," gets its name from his recent single, "Lights Come On." And titling his tour after a guitar - and more appropriately an electric guitar - makes all the sense in the world. Each act on the bill, which also included A Thousand Horses and Thomas Rhett, use a lot of guitars - but mostly in ways not usually associated with country music.

In other words, each act stretched the definition of country, nearly to the breaking point. Granted, Aldean has a steel guitar player in his band; however, this instrument's contribution is nearly drowned out by his electric guitar players. Ironically, Aldean usually performs a song called "She's Country" (and did so tonight), which is partially built upon an electric guitar power chord riff that sounds like it was nicked from AC/DC's "Back in Black." If this girl's truly 'country,' she's from Aussie country, perhaps.

Aldean is like a pitcher with two primary pitches. One is anthem mode, exemplified by opener "Just Getting' Started" and "My Kinda Party." This is the hard stuff. Then there's his slower, moody things, such as "Tonight Looks Good on You." These are his off-speed pitches.

The biggest problem with just two basic weapons in his arsenal, is it's an extremely limited battle plan. A great country concert is one where the performer sings happy songs, sad songs, funny songs and story songs.

Aldean has none of these sort of songs in his repertoire. Unless you're a tough party boy (or a girl that digs tough party boys), you're going to leave a Jason Aldean concert under satisfied. And just like eating Chinese food, you're going to be hungry again soon.

While Aldean has limited-variety issues, at least he has his two good pitches down pat. Rhett's problems are much bigger. He has an identity crisis. He sang all of "Uptown Funk" and most of "Cake by the Ocean" during his set. Furthermore, his own song "Vacation," had much more in common with the Mark Ronson/Bruno Mars hit, than anything truly country. He didn't even find room for his song "Beer with Jesus," which is an older one that showed so much promise. So far, Rhett hasn't lived up to that promise and appears to have veered far off that country road.

A Thousand Horses took the stage while there was still some Southern California summertime sun shining. Horses - let's not kid ourselves - is a Southern rock band, more than a country act. Nevertheless, when the group got the audience waving cellphone lights back and forth (thankfully, night had fallen by then) during their hit "Smoke," they filled the outdoor arena with more heart than any other act following thereafter could muster.

These three performers stretched the definition of country, it's true, but did little to add to the genre's legacy. In 10 or 20 years, will we even remember this music fondly? Or is it like the smoke A Thousand Horses sang about - here for a brief moment before disappearing forever?