For two genres that viewed each other with intense suspicion not so long ago, country and metal sure have gotten cozy of late. Maybe it's the fact that the rock-horns hand formation so beloved by headbangers is identical to the "Hook 'em" rallying gesture of University of Texas fans. Maybe not. Whatever the reason, Jason Aldean's performance Thursday at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium suggested that underneath his cowboy hat, a 'do requiring a whole lot of hairspray may be lurking.
Metal trappings abounded in the country rocker's show. "Amarillo Sky" and "Hicktown" both featured heavy grunge grooves, and "She's Country" sounded like the band had just returned from an Alice in Chains riff sale. Kurt Allison and Mike Frey ended "Who's Kissing You Tonight" with harmony guitar leads, after which Rich Redmond offered up an appropriately pointless drum solo that he capped by kissing his biceps.
The set ended with an uncountrified cover of "Sweet Child o' Mine," which started losing momentum somewhere around the second solo - precisely where it should be gaining steam. Aldean's material was big enough to fill an arena (even if Aldean hasn't quite gotten there yet), which meant every ballad sounded like it was straight out of the Journey power-ballad playbook. "Johnny Cash" was overpowering rather than snarly and stinging, and the guitars in "You're the Love I Wanna Be In" roared so much they created the illusion that an organ was somewhere in the mix. The overall muddiness of the sound didn't help.
Aldean seemed to be in fine voice, but there was a labored stiffness in his rock 'n' roll moves, such as when he jumped off the drum riser with nothing resembling abandon. And he drained all emotion from "Laughed Until We Cried" by singing it while shaking hands across the front row. Right when he was supposed to be the most connected to his material, Aldean was on autopilot.
Although Lady Antebellum was second-billed, it hardly seemed like a warm-up act. Confident and in charge right from the start, country singers Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, and Dave Haywood were in their element, whether on the kicky "Love's Looking Good on You" or "All We'd Ever Need," a Nashville prom theme complete with swirling shafts of scattered slow-dance light. They even had their own metal moment, neatly folding "You Shook Me All Night Long" into party anthem "Lookin' for a Good Time."
With his reliance on Les Paul power chords and thudding pop-metal drums, opener Eric Durrance failed to signify country so much as late-'90s Bon Jovi.