Before Kane Brown stepped on stage, the music that filtered through Infinite Energy Arena served as a notable precursor.
From Montell Jordan (“This is How We Do It”) to Skee-Lo (“I Wish”) to DJ Kool (“Let Me Clear My Throat”), it was a smorgasbord of ‘90s-era Top 40/hip-hop, songs that would have been flashbacks as 25-year-old Brown grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia.
His desire to fuse those throwback sounds with an occasional lap steel guitar and fiddle has netted him steady success – his debut EP landed in 2015 and his self-titled album in 2016 – and now, his first headlining arena tour.
Kicking off his “Live Forever” jaunt with about 8,000 predominantly young adult fans packing the venue, Brown charmed with his combination of relatable songs and easy rapport with his disciples.
That he has a killer grin and seductive green eyes and brought his beloved Nana onstage only added to the swoon factor.
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Also, he can sing.
From the opening “Baby Come Back to Me,” with its block rockin’ beat, to the deeply personal “Learning” to the wistful phone-lights-up ballad “Homesick,” Brown ably meshed his molasses-thick voice with fluid semi-rapping.
No wonder is latest album is titled “Experiment.”
Brown has remained humble through his ascent – he made a prominent showing at last year’s American Music Awards and has paid his opening dues with Florida Georgia Line and Chris Young – and seemed in awe of his accomplishment.
“This is my dream!” he proclaimed early in the 90-minute show, as he looked out at the sea of waving arms.
While some of Brown’s songs are merely adequate – his first hit, “Used to Love You Sober,” likely went platinum on the fact that it’s exactly the type of boilerplate mid-tempo singalong built for country radio – he has stronger options in his fledgling catalog.
Red lights flickered onstage and electric guitar chords growled during “American Bad Dream,” a worthy commentary on social injustice, and his unspooling of the ballad “Work” highlighted the authenticity in the song’s “we’re in this together, babe,” message.
Brown teased his collaboration with Khalid, a remix of “Saturday Nights” that dropped a couple of hours after the concert, and revved the crowd with the pleasant “Short Skirt Weather.”
Judging by the ardent fans singing every lyric of every song, Brown is, for better or worse, the boundary-defying future of country music.
As the sandwich act on the tour, Granger Smith served as an ideal momentum-builder.
He hit the stage in a hail of drumbeats for “Stutter,” his tight jeans igniting a scream-a-thon from the girls ringing the front of the catwalk, and flipped his microphone with understated cool during “You’re In It.”
Smith possesses a sweet, twang-inflected voice and he used it effectively on “They Were There,” the title song from his documentary honoring the lives of five fallen soldiers.
But the meat of his 45-minute set came with a fiery cover of Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” – during which he doused fans with water – and his “God, guns and country” anthem, “Don’t Tread On Me,” which he performed at the back of the arena.
Smith’s followers are familiar with his alter ego, Earl Dibbles Jr., and the singer briefly departed the stage to return in the overalls and tank top that comprise Dibbles’ uniform.
Some fans reveled in the crunch-rock of Dibbles’ “The Country Boy Song,” while others shrieked when the tank top was removed and Smith’s Marky Mark physique was exposed.
Opening the night at 7 sharp was Raelynn, the season two contestant on “The Voice” who has since carved a sturdy career with hits including “God Made Girls” and “Love Triangle.”
Strutting the stage in silver-studded ankle boots, Raelynn seemed a bit subdued at the start of her 30-minute set, but livened throughout the performance.
She dutifully took selfies with fans ringing the stage, shared a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs” and rollicked with her four-piece band through her current single, “Tailgate.”
But “Love Triangle,” about her parents’ divorce, remained the centerpiece of her show, with her big voice soaring on the affecting ballad.