Luke Combs wrapped his tour in Nashville on Friday night (Dec. 13) with the kind of no-nonsense, professional show you’d expect from a seasoned country veteran, not a first-time CMA Male Vocalist of the Year winner.
The Beer Never Broke My Heart Tour is short on frills, but long on ’90s-inspired country-rockers and ballads. Combs strings songs together like a jukebox pumped full of quarters, barely taking a break to let fans buy a beer or use the seat they paid for. It’s appreciated, and it helps cover a tightly packaged setlist that at this point in his career is light on radio hits. Not that it matters.
Combs’ fans know every word of every song, especially the meaningful deep cuts he selected from two-plus albums released since he debuted “Hurricane” in October 2016. “Must’ve Never Met You” is a deeeep cut, found on the deluxe re-issue of This One’s for You, his 2017 debut. It fit neatly behind the two-steppin’ “Honky Tonk Highway” and “When It Rains It Pours” (his second career No. 1 hit) in his setlist, but elicited the loudest crowd response to that point. In fact, by the time he got to the chorus a third time, he could simply hold out his microphone and let his fans do the heavy lifting.
A shotgunned beer during “1, 2 Many” punctuated an electric opening sequence, but as Combs moved toward the ballads, few people sat. “Houston, We Got a Problem,” “One Number Away” and “Dear Today” are the kind of personal songs you stand for out of respect, and before you knew it his band was walking out for the second half of “This One’s for You,” another in a series of smart, perfectly executed transitions that helped maintain his energy.
It’s a funny kind of energy that Combs brings to arenas. He’s not going to run around or dance or shred on electric guitar. One-on-fan interaction isn’t emphasized, and one will rarely catch him posing gratuitously for the in-house cameras like so many talented vocalists do. Instead, he eases about the stage like an old pro. If Luke Combs was an NFL running back, he’d be the one who simply hands the football to the referee when he reaches the end zone instead of spiking it into the turf or leaping into the stands. He acts like he’s been there before, even though he admits the night was part two of a six-year-old dream come true (Combs sold out the Bridgestone Arena on Thursday night, too). Everything the 29-year-old does is sincere and simple, which makes him easy to enjoy.
This tour stop closed with Combs’ best beer songs and the hit that got it all started for him, but for the final show, he also added a special cover song. “Beautiful Crazy,” “Beer Can” and “Beer Never Broke My Heart” brought the standard set to a close, but few people left without hearing an encore that featured Old Crow Medicine Show singing “Wagon Wheel.” Combs fortuitously bumped into the group at the Ryman Auditorium before his concert, and they were eager to follow him south across Lower Broadway to a less hallowed, more populated music venue. Opening acts Morgan Wallen and Jameson Rodgers also joined in for the sing-along. As Combs and Wallen embraced, one got a sense of how important these two nights were for the headliner. Remember, the shows were announced nearly a year ago, which means they were booked over a year ago, perhaps as early as mid-2018 when the newcomer had just three radio hits to count on.
Combs called his shot and then walked off stage like he’d been there before and he’ll be back soon … because he probably will.
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