Concert review: Dierks Bentley impresses everybody in Tahoe, stays unbeaten in drinking competition
Five songs into his “Sounds of Summer” Tour stop at Harveys Outdoor Arena on Sunday night, Dierks Bentley started talking about his old Chevrolet truck, his late father and why he still plays a beat-up guitar with a big hole in the body.
“Thanks to you, I could buy a new truck … actually I could buy a lot of new trucks,” he said to the near-capacity crowd, which reacted with laughter instead of shrieks for one of the few times all evening.
“But I lost my father (in 2012) and that old truck reminds me of him. And this old guitar, well, I could go out and buy one without a hole in it. But that one wouldn’t be autographed by Garth Brooks, George Strait, George Jones and Merle Haggard.”
Both comments stood as apt metaphors for Bentley and his career.
In an era where pop-country acts such as Luke Bryan and Sam Hunt are dominating the charts, and many classic-country acts are struggling to find airplay, Bentley has created a unique niche as a country superstar with the bonafides to impress both sides of the aisle.
He certainly has racked up more than his share of hits in a still-young, 11-year career: 13 number ones and four more in the top five, to be precise. But you can’t help but think that if he — OK, let’s say it — sold out just a bit and did a bit more hobnobbing on Music Row, he’d be the biggest country act in the nation.
Chances are, though, he’d never be able to look at those signatures on his guitar the same way again. And that’s what makes him Dierks Bentley.
Bentley roared through 18 songs in an hour and a half Sunday night, putting a raucous capper on a “Sounds of Summer” night that featured three high-energy opening acts: Canaan Smith, the duo Maddie and Tae and Kip Moore, whose new release “Wild Ones” has quickly shot to the top of the country charts.
Each of the three did a commendable job of engaging and entertaining the crowd, but as soon as Bentley took the stage just after 9, there was no doubt who most of the people had come to see.
Playing hit after hit with the polish and to-the-note-perfection one would expect from a band that has already played nearly 50 shows this year (including four nights in succession counting Sunday), Bentley showcased the country-flavored-rock that has made him a superstar along with the bluegrass and old-time country that has endeared him to the traditionalists.
He talked a lot about beer, too. (And, take it from this reporter and longtime concertgoer: this crowd drank a lot of beer.) In fact, after the one-two openers of “Sideways” and “Am I the Only One,” Bentley plucked a man out of the crowd and challenged him (per tour tradition) to a “shotgun beer” contest.
It was no contest. “I’m still undefeated for the summer,” Bentley bragged.
The salutes to alcohol (“Tip It on Back”) and strength in tough times (“I Hold On”) continued until Bentley slowed it down with perhaps his most touching ballad, “Come A Little Closer,” which he dedicated to everyone in the audience, those couples already together, and all the singles looking for some inspiration to find a partner later in the evening. Both segments of the audience responded with equal enthusiasm.
Another highlight, one that received one of the loudest ovations of the night, was his ballad “Home,” dedicated to the men and women of the Armed Forces and including the lyrics “It’s been a long hard ride/got a ways to go/but this is still the place/that we call home.”
And this being Dierks Bentley, those words provided the perfect segue into his bluegrass music. His band switched to fiddle, mandolin and banjo for “Up on the Ridge,” the title song from his highly acclaimed 2010 album, which was seen as a big departure from his earlier, more-radio-standard albums.
After that, the band rocked anew on “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” and delivered the perfect one-two closing punch for an encore: Bentley’s first No. 1 single, “What Was I Thinkin,'” and one of his most recent, “Drunk on a Plane.”
The concert began at 6:30 p.m. and clocked in at four hours overall. Perhaps the most high-energy act of the openers was Smith, who had the small early-arrival crowd on its feet while occasionally banging a solo drum stick while singing. Maddie and Tae followed with sugary-sweet harmonies on their own songs and provided a surprise with a brief cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
Moore’s set was a mix of edgy country-rock and, believe it or not, Motown. He had the crowd rocking early with his song “Beer Money” and a cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle,” brought it to its feet with a cover of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me” and finally closed with his signature song, “Something About a Truck.” Along with the other opening acts, he later returned to sing a song with Bentley.
It was a night that definitely displayed the wide range of the “Sounds of Summer” while covering a lot of familiar ground. In fact, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was, Bentley didn’t perform his usual “surprise” song. He skipped his traditional cover performance, which last week featured “Guitars and Cadillacs” and “The Theme from the Dukes of Hazzard,” among other gems.
On this particular night, he didn’t need it. Dierks Bentley and his songs were more than enough.
Chances are the men behind every signature on that old, beat-up guitar of his would be quick to agree.
Dierks Bentley Harveys Outdoor Arena, Aug. 23, 2015
“Am I the Only One”
“Tip It On Back”
“Every Mile A Memory”
“I Hold On”
“Feel That Fire”
“Sounds of Summer”
“Lot of Leaving Left To Do” (with Kip Moore)
“Come a Little Closer”
“Up On the Ridge”
“Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go),” with Maddie and Tae and Canaan Smith
“Say You Do”
“What Was I Thinkin’ ”
“Drunk On A Plane”
ABOUT Mike Wolcott
Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. His proudest musical moment came when he was scolded by Who bassist John Entwistle for making too much noise at a Roger Daltrey concert. He especially likes classic rock, classic old-time country, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan and all three Hanks. Parsons calls him “Wally.” When he’s not slaying deadlines, you can find Wally playing guitar in a Corning-based cover band called Punches the Clown.