To a casual observer watching Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley onstage, it would be hard at times to tell the duo are country music stars. The pair, collectively known as Florida Georgia Line, forgo the cowboy hats and oversize belt buckles for tight T-shirts, even tighter jeans, and a brand of music dubbed “bro-country” that leans more heavily toward rock music infused with pop than it does toward traditional country.
But one thing was abundantly clear as the band took the stage Saturday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center: their die-hard fans are anything but casual observers, and they are perfectly happy rocking out to “bro-country.”
With just two studio albums to their credit, and being relatively new to the role of headlining (the band opened for Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift, among others) FGL put on what could best be described as a very manufactured show.
From the moment they walked out, the evening felt excessively choreographed, even by today’s live event standards. Between the overuse of the smoke machines to the laser lights and the lyric videos accompanying too many of their songs, it felt like you were sitting in on a well-oiled, sleekly produced package, more suited for a soundstage.
Make no mistake about it, their fans love them, and ate up every bite of what the band was serving. It’s just that what they were serving was a smattering of strong country songs watered down with too many that felt like they were purely pandering to the audience.
Take “Party People,” from FGL’s 2012 album, “Here’s to the Good Times.” With lyrics that include, “Hey, hey, hey, where’s my party people?” repeated over and over, it certainly elicited plenty of response from the crowd, but it is just one of several songs that were so bland, it’s hard to classify them as country music without tarnishing the entire genre.
Hubbard and Kelley were at their best when the band stepped back and they talked with the fans, strummed their guitars, and lost some of the plastic feel of the performance.
When Kelley reached down to high-five the fans and even sign autographs while Hubbard sang the fan favorite, “’Round Here,” it was a great moment.
Likewise, the entire crowd holding up their cellphones and bathing the venue in light for “Get Your Shine On” was a high point, as was the crowd joining in on “This is How We Roll” – the hit they recorded with country megastar Luke Bryan.
But from a production and pure musical standpoint, the high points were too few and far between. Just don’t tell their rabid fans that.
All in all, if you bought a ticket expecting anything resembling country music, you likely walked away disappointed. But if you came out to watch two affable Southern boys work the stage channeling, at times, what appeared to be hip-hop artists crossed with hair metal singers, with some decent songs mixed in, then you went hope blissfully happy.