by Bill Paddack
A couple of recent No. 1 hits go a long way toward illustrating Dierks Bentley’s range and versatility as both a singer and a songwriter. He showcased them both Saturday night when he brought his Country & Cold Cans Tour to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
Bentley shines on fast-paced songs about partying and drinking, and they’ve long made up a large part of his signature energetic, hard-driving shows. The latest, “Am I the Only One,” is the handsome, curly haired singer at his best as he asks in that slightly gravelly, mostly traditional country voice “is there anybody out there wants to have a cold beer, kick it ’til the morning light.” It’s good-times country, fun and a bit rowdy, which may also serve as an apt description of the Vanderbilt graduate who’s been a staple on the country charts for almost 10 years now.
On the other end of the spectrum – and near the end of his spirited performance before 3,432 fans – Bentley is thoughtful, reflective and appreciative on “Home,” his tribute to America and the American spirit. It’s patriotic, to be sure, but it hits the spot without going overboard.
Bentley is a co-writer on both of those hits, which are on his latest album, “Home.” They’re great additions to what over the years has become a nice discography for the country star who is no stranger to Central Arkansas. He’s performed here a number of times before and was scheduled to play the Riverfest Amphitheater before inclement weather caused the move to what he termed “big, fancy Verizon Arena.” It’s his style to make any venue feel a bit intimate, so he added “if it’s all right with you, we’ll just pretend we’re at the Electric Cowboy.”
Inside or outside, large arena or small club, it doesn’t really matter. Bentley’s shows are just plain fun and that was the case Saturday night. Other crowd-pleasers included “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” “Every Mile a Memory,” “How Am I Doin’ ” and, of course, the “little white tank top song” – “What Was I Thinkin’ ” – which he used in an encore to close out the evening.
The Cadillac Black opened the show with a six-song set that mixed a little country with a lot of Southern rock on listenable numbers like “Tennessee Mojo,” “Get Your Buzz On” and “Down to the River.” Next up was The Eli Young Band, a group of guys who got together as students at the University of North Texas 11 years ago. If the band keeps delivering hits like the terrific “Crazy Girl” – named Song of the Year by the Academy of Country Music earlier this year – it just may be headlining the next time it’s in town. Lead singer Mike Eli and the guys blend rock and country and found plenty of love from the crowd on engaging songs like “Always the Love Songs,” “Guinevere” and “When It Rains.”
More photos after the jump.