Country star Morgan Wallen‘s performance at Ryman Auditorium in Nashville Tuesday evening wasn’t simply another livestream. The concert was attended by several hundred cheering fans—fan club members, he said—which gave the show a sort of out-of-time feel. Rather than a film or “TV special” production, which so many well-produced livestreams felt like the last few months, this one felt like an actual mid-tour concert.
It felt good and awkward at the same time. On one hand, this is what concerts were in the before-days. The film and production crew highlighted the crowd and individual fans, and how Morgan Wallen interacted with and acknowledged them (and the audience of about 31,000 watching live at home) numerous times. On the other hand, it was a hollering crowd that was seen fidgeting with masks every time the cameras panned to them. Several fans featured multiple times weren’t making any effort in covering their noses. By the end, one woman in the back was clearly not even wearing a mask. It’s the kind of thing that would likely set off super-spreader alarm bells for some West Coast viewers.
Morgan Wallen, for his part, seemed happy to just be on stage in front of his fans again. The performance, tied to the release of his sophomore double-album, Dangerous, was heavy on musical talent, even though it lacked some urgency. Wallen came out alone at first and opened with a soft rendition of album opener “Sand In My Boots” on a keyboard, highlighting his gravelly voice. All of the songs played were from Dangerous.
“We came here to play all the new stuff. If you came to hear the old stuff, you’re in the wrong place,” he said a short time later, adding that he was excited to perform a full show at the historic Nashville venue for the first time.
A solid chunk of the concert felt less like country music and more like rock. Other than one multi-instrumentalist who switched off between resonator guitar and mandolin, the rest of the band could have just as easily fit in (both in looks and performance styles) on Warped Tour.
“Somethin’ Country” was ironically not very country as Morgan Wallen, with a smirk on his face, rapped some of the lines with his voice retaining its twangy quality through a mix of crunchy guitar and a sea of red strobe lights. “This has been the first time we’ve played a real show in about 10 months,” Wallen pointed out before the band kicked into the album’s title track, which, with echoing guitars recalled Coldplay or U2. It would be a pop track if not for the artist’s nasally twang.
Several of the new songs on Dangerous pay homage to Wallen’s childhood and hometown, and he took every advantage to showcase them on Tuesday. “Still Going Down” was an early set highlight and a small-town slice of life story. A direct shoutout to growing up in Knoxville, “865” was the high point of the entire show, embellished with slide guitar and bittersweet, euphoric vocal delivery. Main set closer, “More Than My Hometown,” had Wallen declaring love for a woman “more than a California sunset, more than beer when you ain’t 21 yet,” but not more than his home.
There were also the requisite tunes about beer and trucks that got the in-person crowd moving around. “Beer Don’t” was a high-production-value honky-tonk rocker punctuated by resonator guitar. “Silverado For Sale,” which Morgan Wallen described as being “not true to me but true to the things I’ve seen,” was a heartfelt ode and a goodbye to a pickup truck being sold (“This truck will get the prettiest girl in town…”) and the best narrative song of the night. The blend of electronic percussion and acoustic guitar melody created an interesting mix on “Wasted On You.”
The upbeat “Blame It On Me” and “More Surprised Than Me” were two of the more traditionally country songs that will get more people dancing together once COVID-19 is in the rearview for good. The latter of the two was accentuated with mandolin plucking. “Country A$$ Shit,” meanwhile, had fans online commenting messages like “WALLEN 2024.” Wallen didn’t address the previous week’s turmoil in the U.S.
Following wistful ballad “7 Summers,” slightly menacing “Warning,” a duet with singer-songwriter Ben Burgess on “Outlaw” and “More Than My Hometown,” Morgan Wallen gave a fistbump to someone in the front row and then gave a handshake or fistbump to each of his bandmates, one by one. After a brief break, the lights came back on, and the band performed a one-song encore, a cover of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.