Brantley Gilbert sat on a stool midway into his 90-plus-minute Tucson concert Thursday night.
He was slowing things down a bit for an acoustic reprieve from the thrashing rock guitars and driving Southern rock-infused country he'd been happily banging out all night.
Two songs, he told the audience that filled the reserved seats and loosely filled the lawn at the AVA at Casino del Sol.
"Rowdy folks, I promise: two songs, then we're kicking ass," he pledged and the audience, which had jumped to its feet when he and his band took the stage an hour earlier, remained standing.
And despite that the songs — "Them Boys" and "My Kind of Crazy," an ode to his wife Amber Cochran — were slower-paced, the crowd stood, knowing that once that last verse of "Crazy" was still lingering, Gilbert would return to his bad-boy country self, with screaming guitars, furnace blast bursts of pyrotechnics and driving, soulful country rock.
Gilbert, arguably the biggest country artist heading our way this summer, brought his "The Ones That Like Me Tour" to Tucson with all the bells and whistles you'd expect from an arena show. Fat flames shot out from the back end of the stage, blasting big waves of hot as far back as the lawn seats. Videos accompanied nearly every song; the most endearing was the slideshow of him and his wife that accompanied "You Don't Know Her Like I Do."
Gilbert might appear to be this linebacker-big, gruff chains-and-tattoos scary dude, but just listening to his rough-hewn, raspy baritone profess love for his wife exposed his soft underbelly.
You got the same impression when he covered the smooth-driving, hip-hop-infused "Dirt Road," a song he wrote that Jason Aldean made a monster hit a few years back; and the inspiring "One Hell Of An Amen."
Of course it was those party songs — the drink-along "Bottoms Up," the fisticuffs brawler "Take It Outside," the country pledges of "Country Must Be Country Wide" and "Small Town Throwdown" and the tour's title song about the love you get from the people you know — that made Gilbert's show so dang fun.
In the way back of the reserved seats, Gulmira Amangalieva, a 27-year-old Russian journalist on a three-week U.S. fellowship, started bopping along with the crowd to music she had never laid ears on before Thursday.
Her smile was painted on from the moment Gilbert skipped on stage, and by the time he sang his rollicking encore "The Weekend," Amangalieva was dancing in place and waving her arms like a longtime fan.