The last time Luke Bryan played on the Steelers' home turf most of the crowd was still carrying on in the parking lot.
That was 2008. Since then he's scored some hits, won some awards and rocked some Spring Break parties, so on Saturday night he got bumped up from the echoey, sun-glared 4:30 slot to the 9:15 p.m. prime-time billing at Heinz Field for his first-ever stadium concert. He announced from the stage it was the biggest concert in the history of the stadium, capacity 52,000. (U2 holds the record at more than 70,000 in 2011.)
"I want to thank you so much for selling Heinz Field out," he yelled. "As long as I live I will remember the great city of Pittsburgh."
Luke came up a little short in the weather department -- Kenny always seemed to bring abundant sunshine -- so it didn't have quite the same Under the Sun beach party vibe around the stadium. The good news is that the cool, overcast day did cut down on the amount of people passing out, throwing up and punching each other. There were also an alarming number of men wearing shirts.
As for the parking lot, despite the tweet from Luke and the trash bags handed out, it was better than last year but still a sea of bottles and cans before and after the show, and you could tell by the smell that a few more people should have use the Porta-Johns.
With four guys cut from the same mold, there was little diversity to this 5-hour display of contemporary bro-country. Chesney mixed it up by adding the sassy Kacey Musgraves last time and next month Jason Aldean brings spitfire Miranda Lambert to PNC Park.
This one began with Cole Swindell, who was selling Luke Bryan merch on his last visit here. This time he was running around on the ramps and bridges (yes, bridges) warming up the crowd with songs from his new self-titled debut like troop-dedicated "You Ain't Worth The Whiskey" and hit single "Chillin' It."
Lee Brice, going with the standard backwards baseball cap over his bold new Paddy cap look, came out to make a statement, hollering at stadium volume about beer and partying. He even had a screaming hard-rock song succinctly titled "Beer."
The former Clemson football player had a manly grit to the ballads, as well, like "I Don't Dance," and speed-rapped the verses of "Good Man," which followed a rare country drum solo. He had the most powerful song of the night in "I Drive Your Truck," a father's tale of losing a son in the war. He flipped that mood in hurry, though, ending with an inane "Parking Lot Party" sing-along that actually went "Parking lot party!/yeah yeah yeah!"
Dierks Bentley, also a fan of baseball caps and beer, said he had a few before he came out, and then challenged a fan to a chugging contest during "Am I the Only One." He drained the can in three seconds flat for the win, and finished the song without even a burp.
The acclaimed singer-songwriter from Arizona then proceeded to put a tinge of sadness and heartbreak into drinking songs "Tip it on Back" and "Drunk on a Plane," the latter about an unused honeymoon ticket.
A physical performer with stadium charisma, Mr. Bentley offered a nod to pop radio with a cover of OneRepublic's "Counting Stars" that certainly went over big with the ladies. But not as big as his own rousing hits "What Was I Thinkin'," "Sideways" and the patriotic "Home," with the glow of cellphones.
He's got some pickers in his band, too, best showcased by the twangy steel guitar attack on "Lot of Leavin' Left to Do." He said goodbye by signing a pretty electric guitar and handing it down to a fan.
Not to be outdone, Mr. Bryan made his entrance through the floor in an actual ring of fire, Terrible Towel hanging from his back pocket, for "My Kind of Night." He took the energy and volume up yet another notch, piercing the night air with his high nasally baritone.
He worked the Heinz Red Zone up to midfield, belting out one uptempo song after another, from the early "All My Friends Say" and "Country Man" to the recent "Roller Coaster."
He sat at an upright piano, with Mr. Bentley on guitar, sipping moonshine from a jar and running through little snippets of George Strait's "Unwound," Garth Brooks' “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)" and Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69," and all of Bentley's "How Am I Doin'."
As he has been doing on the tour, Mr. Swindell re-emerged for "This Is How We Roll," a stadium-sized song they wrote with and for "Florida Georgia Line."
He tapped into Spring Break mode on "Suntan City," passing out beers from big coolers and splashing it around with Mr. Brice on "If You Ain't Here to Party."
Later, he tapped into Steeler Nation, flashing a picture of the late Chuck Noll on the screens for "Drink a Beer," not at all a party song but a sad toast to a lost friend.
Like everything he did, summer anthem "Drunk On You" and fireworks-filled grand finale of "Country Girl (Shake It for Me)" were ecstatically received, a credit to the friendly, charged atmosphere he generated all the way to the back row.
"I'll never forget this night," he said, going into the set-closing "I Don't Want This Night To End." "You changed my life."
For a guy who never headlined a stadium, Luke Bryan sure had the look and sound of a stadium headliner.
Scott Mervis: email@example.com or 412-263-2576.
That's My Kind Of Night
Rain Is a Good Thing
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye
All My Friends Say
Someone Else Calling You Baby
With Dierks Bentley:
Unwound (George Strait cover
Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old) (Garth Brooks cover)
Summer of '69 (Bryan Adams cover)
How Am I Doin' (Bentley cover)
This Is How We Roll (with Cole Swindell) (Florida Georgia Line cover)
The Only Way I Know (Jason Aldean cover)
If You Ain't Here to Party (with Lee Brice)
Crash My Party
Drink a Beer
Drunk On You
I Don't Want This Night To End/Dynamite ( Taio Cruz)
Play It Again
Country Girl (Shake It for Me)
First Published June 21, 2014 11:42 PM