REVIEW: Kane Brown’s Drunk or Dreaming Tour thrilled at Rogers Place

The Georgia-born singer is rising to country stardom with the tried-and-tested formula of country tropes and arena-rock showmanship

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Is there space in the nearly interchangeable roster of current country music stars for Kane Brown?

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If there isn’t then there needs to be, at least if the audience at Sunday night’s concert at Rogers Place has anything to say about the matter. Brown has been making the case for superstardom since 2017, and now — with his third full-length album, this year’s Different Man — he’s securing it. 

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The 29-year-old is doing it on his Drunk or Dreaming tour with the tried-and-tested formula of country tropes and arena-rock showmanship put to full use on opener Pull It Off, an unabashed mid-tempo rocker all stuttering guitar and lust, fire and smoke. It wasn’t long before he was bowing to the tropes of more recent country music, however. But instead of focusing on those daisy dukes, he’s more interested in another piece of clothing (Short Skirt Weather), paying homage to his upbringing (Hometown), and genuflecting at the altar of ‘90s country while namechecking Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn (Like I Love Country Music).  

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It’s pretty innocuous stuff, played with energy and a lot of audience interaction, musical puzzle pieces reconfigured and buffed for a new generation. You could make a case that it’s both authentically Nashville and authentically country as it currently stands. By that I mean practically every song has a long list of writers attached to it, tested for maximum radio appeal, and that they reflect exactly what Brown would have heard growing up in the 2000s: rock, pop, hip hop, dancehall, new country and even a small gloss of ‘70s twang.

That eclecticism is what makes him interesting, not so much the songwriting. The world’s a much better place when Sean Kingston, Ben E. King and George Jones are slotted together in the tribute section of a country music show, as Brown did with an a cappella read on Jones’s Ol’ Red (introduced as a Blake Shelton song) and a snatch of Kingston’s Beautiful Girls, King’s Stand By Me tumbling out the other side in surprise. The through line is jealousy and crime, the musical line wavering as it should in an era where people aren’t quite so hung up on purism. It makes you wonder what would have happened if Merle Haggard had decided to follow up one of his Bob Wills covers with a sideways version of a Sly Stone song? Probably more than what actually happened last night, but at least those straightjacket rules have loosened.

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Brown had a lot to talk about on Sunday night. And the truth is, as a poor, biracial kid growing up in Georgia he does have a story worth listening to. A few crowd members were tuning out at that point, but he had them back with a blasting version of Crank That by Soulja Boy. He’s got a rich and adaptable voice, Brown does, whether snapping out hip-hop lines or sinking in a swamp of fiddle, banjo and electric guitar on Bury Me in Georgia.

With an hour to showcase herself, direct support Jessie James Decker had more time to work with than most openers do. She filled it with a handful of mid-tempo original songs like Almost Over You and her current single I Still Love You, sung in a strong and brassy voice, plus a lot of stage banter. Decker turned a considerable section of the show over to her talented band, which meant snippets of easy-to-please fan favourites like Sweet Emotion, Come Together and Don’t Stop Believing, followed by her own cover of Old Town Road. Fun if you like that kind of stuff, but not particularly memorable.

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