The smell of burning incense permeated the air at Comerica Theatre last night as the Almost Acoustic Christmas concert kicked off its annual event. Fans filed inside the auditorium in large groups until the place was packed from top to bottom with energetic country music lovers. The line-up was loaded with powerful talent, promising the concert goers a fun-filled evening to kick off the holiday season; and the entertainment certainly didn't disappoint, if not actually exceeding expectations in a lot of eyes, mine included.
Almost Acoustic Christmas offered one of the rare concerts where every performer carried their own weight, and nobody out-performed another from the headliner to the opening act.
Laura Bell Bundy was the first performer of the night, shortly after 7:30. Brightly lit Christmas trees stood tall on the stage next to Bundy as she fired off an array of music ranging from original songs to beautifully executed renditions of holiday music like "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night", along with hip-hop mash-ups and timeless country jams.
"My music is like beats and banjos making out on the floor," exclaimed Bundy before showing off her hard-hitting and impressive vocal range during her performance of live remixes like Dolly Parton's "9 To 5" combined with "Respect" by Aretha Franklin, followed by Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'" and Miranda Lambert's "Hell on Heels."
Bundy, who recently became a regular on the FX show Anger Management with Charlie Sheen, offered the crowd little bits of stand-up comedy one-liners throughout the night that certainly had a touch of Sheen to them.
"Let's douche this," said Bundy to a group of girls on stage after teaching them a two-step routine that they were to perform while she and guest vocalist Colt Ford spit rap lyrics to one another.
And her shout-out to Almost Acoustic Christmas sponsors 107.9 KMLE--"usually around Christmas I'm under the mistletoe," she says, "but tonight I'm under the cameltoe." Bundy controlled the stage and had the audience's full attention with her high energy and twanging southern drawl voice all the way to her closing hit song "Giddy on Up".
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KMLE representatives Steve and Nina welcomed each performer to the stage, and next on the list was Cole Swindell, whose songs are soaked in lyrical stories of beer, bourbon, broken hearts, and beautiful girls. Swindell, wearing a leather jacket and baseball hat, charged to the center of the stage to the sound of crowd cheers after a pounding percussion introduction.
Halfway through his rocking performance, Swindell showed his fans what to expect from him in the future as he debuted his upcoming single "You Ain't Worth the Whiskey," an ode to his ex. He promises her that he may be drinking for a lot of reasons, but never to drown her memory, "because you ain't worth the whiskey."
Swindell closed his performance with his current radio hit "Chillin' It", and had the crowd whistling and chanting along.
The next highlight performance came from country boy Colt Ford and his all-American band. An American flag was tied to Ford's microphone stand as he strutted on stage wearing a cowboy hat, sunglasses and zebra striped cowboy boots, and the fiddle player took his place at his mic stand, which had dangling eagle feathers and a raccoon tail.
Ford kicked off his guitar and bass heavy performance that blends fast-paced backwoods hip-hop style lyrics with country anthem choruses, and had the crowd rocking along.
Try as they might, there are no other country musicians that can match Ford's unique melting pot of sound.
"Country girls make some noise," said Ford, and the room filled with piercing screams as the band tore into "Dirt Road Anthem" and the arena lit up when fans were encouraged to hold their cell phones and lighters high in the air.
The reaction shouldn't have been a surprise, considering that every time Florida Georgia Line's name was mentioned throughout the evening the crowd cheered loudly, but when the headlining band finally took the stage shortly after 10 o'clock I was not expecting the deafening and welcoming roar from the audience that took place. The crowd was going crazy for the opening song and a pair of half-dressed blondes came crashing past me to try and crawl over the barrier onto the stage and had to be stopped by security.
Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard showed why they deserved the skyrocket stardom that they experienced in the last year as they rocked the entire arena and had the crowd warped into frenzy. The two musicians vibe well off of each other's energy and equally worked both sides of the stage as they shared alternating verses, sung in unison, and switched off on guitar solos.
During their song "Round Here" the band slowed the music for a moment so they could each take a pull from a bottle of Fireball whiskey and then took the opportunity to genuinely thank the audience for changing their lives and they encouraged everyone to sing the chorus as loud as they could, to which the fans obliged.
A short time later the screens adjacent to the stage played a custom video montage to say thanks to Phoenix, which was followed by their title track "Here's to the Good Times."
At one point, FGL brought Cole Swindell back to the stage to sing a song together after announcing it would be their next single. That act was soon followed by another appearance from Colt Ford as he joined the band to have a few shots of Fireball as well and then the three singers tore into a showcase of hip-hop verses that began with "Wanna be a Baller" by Lil Troy and proceeded to cover everything from Kanye West to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.
"Anything goes at a Florida Georgia Line show," said Hubbard during the hip-hop dance party, and I saw at least one bra fly on stage.
The party never slowed and the dancing never stopped as Florida Georgia Line delivered one hell of a performance that levitated from a collection of songs off their debut album, which all received a positive reaction, to their own renditions of straight-up hip-hop nightclub remixes.
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CRITICS NOTEBOOK Last Night: Almost Acoustic Christmas at Comerica Theatre featuring Florida Georgia Line, Colt Ford, Cole Swindell and Laura Bell Bundy. The Crowd: Lots of couples. Also, lots of packs of drinking-age fan-girls screaming and shouting. Overheard in the Crowd: "I have no idea where my girl is," a man close to me said to his buddy. "She's probably back stage with the band," the buddy replied. The man laughed at first, but then the thought sunk in and his face noticeably changed. Personal Bias: Colt Ford deserves to be way more famous than he is.