Concert Review

Dierks Bentley and the Surreal, Brotastic Arizona Dance Party

Dierks Bentley brought his What the Hell World Tour to downtown Phoenix.
Dierks Bentley brought his What the Hell World Tour to downtown Phoenix. Melissa Fossum
After a super-lively performance by country music hitmaker, Cole Swindell, Dierks Bentley and his band took the stage at downtown Phoenix's Talking Stick Resort Arena to deliver 19 songs as part of his What the Hell World Tour 2017. He had a little more on his mind, though, than just playing music on Saturday, August 26. Hailing from Arizona, Bentley was all jazzed up on hometown pride and made sure not to let anyone forget it, all night long.

Bentley opened with “What the Hell Did I Say,” which instantly drew a wave of cheers, and he swept the front of the crowd with high fives, and even borrowed an audience member’s phone to snap a pic. He sounded a little throaty – you know, like a low-toned country singer on a massive tour – delivering the songs with gusto.

It got a little more twang-y with “5-1-5-0,” followed by “Am I the Only One.” Around this point, Bentley launched into the local love. He got touchy with the crowd some more, via handshakes and high fives. He talked about how exciting it was for him to headline the venue where he’d seen so many great performances and basketball games throughout his life. Yep, that affinity for Arizona definitely includes the Phoenix Suns. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Then, Bentley needed a beer. And not just one to pop the tab on and guzzle, but one to shotgun. He pulled a dude named Hunter from the crowd for a fun shotgun challenge, in which Bentley was the victor.

“Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)” was nice, with the banjo coming out loud and strong.

The stage setup for this tour is badass. It took the square shape of the stage and made it more triangular. Beyond that, they kept it pretty simple. There were some background projections, some bright white lights; it was kind of refreshing that it wasn’t a giant theatrical spectacle. I mean, there was a little bit of that, though.

He intro’d “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do” by saying he wanted to take the audience back to a time when he had really big hair. Bentley and his guitar did a lot of running around on this one, getting in a little up-close time with each bandmate. After the song, he introduced the entire band and circled back to those Suns games. He told a story about how the first time he played there in 2005, he opened for George Strait. He even screened a pic of his proud parents from that event, elevating the fan-gushing to next-level status.

One of the night’s openers, Jon Pardi came out to join Bentley for a cover of George Strait’s “I Wanna Dance With You.” It was a nice tribute, as it’s a great song. They had fun with it, engaging in a little bro-y dance party. What was nicer was Pardi’s classic crooner voice against Bentley’s more bellow-y rasp. Good combo. Sadly, due to some traffic snafu, I missed Pardi’s set, and everything else that came before Swindell.

He played a couple more songs before my good mood turned into annoyance when it was time for “Different for Girls.” He does the song with Elle King, whose song “Ex’s and Oh’s” has been on a lot of minds. King was there to join him – via hologram – for her parts in the song.

That didn’t make me mad. I do have 99 problems, but a hologram ain’t one.

What did irk me was the fucking song itself. It talks about heartbreak and how (Dierks thinks) it’s handled differently by men and women. I guess to those zillion people belting it out, it probably comes off as a guy being sensitive to a woman’s gentler nature. Fuck a whole bunch of that.

“It’s different for girls when their hearts get broke / They can’t tape it back together with a whiskey and coke / They don’t take someone home and act like it’s nothing / They can’t just switch it off every time they feel something / A guy gets drunk with his friends and he might hook up / Fast forward through the pain, pushing back when the tears come on / But it’s different for girls."

Hey Dierks, no, it’s not.

I’ll challenge you myself to a whiskey and coke throwdown! It might be time to lose the gender stereotyping, because it really dates an otherwise pretty decent set of music.

After an impassioned “I Hold On,” Bentley made his way through the crowd to a staging setup on the other side of the room.

He shook hands, hugged, danced, and chatted with fans along the way. He had some beer and he took things to a more serious side by talking about the importance of firefighters, particularly the Granite Mountain Hotshots – the group of Prescott firefighters who lost their lives in 2013 battling the Yarnell Hill Fire. There’s a movie coming out about their story. Cole introduced the only survivor from that team, Brendan McDonough, and played “Riser,” inspiring tears around the room. Bentley has previously raised money for the families of the Hotshots.

When he eventually made his way back to the front, he did Swindell’s hit “Flatliner,” and Swindell came out and joined him for that. If that song’s not on a beer commercial, it should be. It’s got that line-dance-y, kick-up-your-boots kind of catchy zest to it.

Bentley finished up the set with “Somewhere on a Beach,” followed by “What Was I Thinking?” Then it was “Sideways” before calling it a night. Or at least taking a short breather.

There was only one encore, and of course it was “Drunk on a Plane.”

That’s where the technical theatrics came into play. The room got dark, the sounds of a jet engine filled up the room, the screen projection turned to runway-style lights and then all of a sudden, a big metal cage open and there’s a plane on stage. Not a real one, duh! The makeshift front end of a plane held Bentley, clad in pilot’s attire, who popped out to do a pretty literal interpretation of the song.

He faux-stumbled (maybe not too faux, as he’d pounded a few brews), and turned the hit song into a little stage play and party.

That’s festive, right? But it didn’t end there. All of a sudden, that local basketball pride got super-real with the Suns cheerleaders and the Suns gorilla making an appearance to dance with Bentley and band. It was a little surreal.

When the song was over, they didn’t leave the stage. Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner” came across the PA and all those folks on stage danced it up for a few.

click to enlarge Shotgunning skills. - MELISSA FOSSUM
Shotgunning skills.
Melissa Fossum
Set List:
"What the Hell Did I Say"
"Am I the Only One?"
"Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go)"
"Say You Do"
"Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do"
"I Wanna Dance with You" (George Strait Cover)
"Every Mile a Memory"
"Up on the Ridge"
"Different for Girls"
"I Hold On"
"Flatliner" (with Cole Swindell)
"Somewhere on a Beach
"What Was I Thinkin’?"

"Drunk on a Plane" (with Cole Swindell and Jon Pardi)

Critic’s Notebook:
Last Night: Dierks Bentley’s What the Hell World Tour 2017
The crowd: Fans with flags.
Notebook dump: I'd party with Jon Pardi.

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Amy Young is an arts and culture writer who also spends time curating arts-related exhibits and events, and playing drums in local bands French Girls and Sturdy Ladies.
Contact: Amy Young