Someone in Nashville must have flipped a switch.
Gone is that oogling, sexist bro country with its pickup trucks and Daisy Dukes. In style now are male singers doing mushy tunes. Not that that’s new to country music. It’s just that there are a higher profile of hitmakers, including rookie Kane Brown, newcomers Lanco and veteran Chris Young, who just scored his 10th No. 1 country single and headlined a triple bill Friday night at Target Center.
Those romantic ballads connect directly with women’s hearts, sending songs up the charts and selling tickets to concerts. But it’s super challenging to entertain in a sports arena when almost all your songs are medium-tempo or slower.
That dilemma for Young, 32, was apparent when he hit the stage. His band cranked out some rock ’n’ roll rumble as a giant video screen broadcast all kinds of animated, macho images of Young’s initials inside a series of hub caps that morphed into mechanical marvels.
Then suddenly, the roar stopped and Young appeared at center stage with his acoustic guitar as images of lots of lit candles spread across the video screen. He crooned “Losing Sleep,” another ballad and his latest chart-topper.
Opening a Friday night country concert with a ballad is dicey. But darn if Young didn’t have the charm to pull it off. Midsong, he shouted, “How’s everyone doing in Minneapolis tonight?” After a chorus of cheers, he continued crooning.
Young has other ideas on how to make a ballad more dynamic in an arena, like slapping hands with fans while singing, as he did during “Who I Am with You.”
Moreover, between songs, the country star who wins few awards (other than the championship on TV’s “Nashville Star” in 2006) was chatty in a good way. He pointed out that this was the bestselling show on his first headline tour, with more than 10,000 people. He chugged a beer in a plastic cup and said he stole the idea from Garth Brooks. And, throughout the 80-minute performance, the burly, bearded Vince Gill look-alike flashed a magnetic smile that lit up the arena — even on ballads.
Young didn’t completely keep things slow and slower. He had some drinking songs in the repertoire. He introduced “Aw Naw” as “a love song with tequila,” but it was more like a generic barroom boogie. When Young tried to rock out on “I Can Take It from There” and “Save Water, Drink Beer,” his voice was drowned out by his hard-driving band.
By contrast, his pliable voice was loud and clear on ballads. He knows how to speak to women even if some of his lines are borderline sappy in a Hallmark card kind of way. But he sings the words that most guys are too shy to say to their ladies.
“Every single touch is something special,” he observed in “Losing Sleep.” “When we’re wrapped up in those sheets.”
Or witness “Who I Am with You”: “I’ve been lost and I’ve been found/ But who I am with you is who I really wanna be/ You’re so good for me/ And when I’m holdin’ you, it feels like I’ve got the world in my hands/ Yeah, a better man is who I am with you.”
Yeah, he’s a better man when he’s doing ballads.
Like Young, Brown, 24, understands how Nashville’s bread is buttered these days. His current hit, “Heaven,” could be right out of Young’s songbook: “This is perfect/ Come kiss me one more time/ I couldn’t dream this up/ Even if I tried/ You and me in this moment/ Feels like magic only/ I’m right where I wanna be.”
Sung with Brown’s buzzsaw baritone, it was a hit on the radio and in a Minneapolis basketball arena.
Opening band Lanco plied the formula on their smash hit “Greatest Love Story,” about a guy pursuing his high school sweetheart after she returns with her college degree. We all know how that story ends.
Twitter: @JonBream • 612-673-1719