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Nashville’s former party boy, Morgan Wallen, rode into Canadian Tire Centre on Thursday and served up a concert that was like comfort food for his youthful fans, full of singalong ballads, upbeat country-rock and some earnest words of appreciation for the enthusiastic applause that greeted him.
“Thank you so much for that kind of loving,” said the 30-year-old entertainer from Sneedville, Tenn., when he appeared on stage following an extended fanfare of band-member introductions, along with snippets of hip hop, EDM and metal to rev up the crowd’s excitement.
“I’ve been away from home for about two weeks now and moments like that make it worth it,” he added, taking a moment to bask in the applause. “This is my first time ever headlining a show in Ottawa so this will be my first impression, man.”
The Ottawa stop was one of a handful of concerts in Canada this month, part of Wallen’s hugely popular One Night at a Time world tour. Thursday’s show attracted some 16,000 fans, generating such demand that ticket prices went through the roof, thanks to Ticketmaster’s dynamic pricing practice. Prices on the few remaining seats were in the $900 range the week before the concert, dropping to $400 or so by the day of the event.
Of course, feeding the demand is Wallen’s chart-topping, third studio album, One Thing at a Time, which came out this year with a string of hits making it the most popular country-music album of the year. The bulk of Thursday’s setlist came from that album, as well as a few songs from each of his two previous releases and one well-chosen cover song: a heartfelt rendition of Jason Isbell’s Cover Me Up.
In a white T-shirt, jeans and ball cap over his recently shorn mullet, the mustachioed Wallen was a lively, athletic frontman who made good use of the vast stage, striding back and forth to connect with the crowd on opposite sides of the arena. The pleasant twang of his voice was well suited to his mid-tempo ballads about drinking and heartbreak, and while it’s a style that’s not particularly groundbreaking or original, it sure resonates with a generation raised on technology and longing for connection.
Between songs, Wallen had a lot to say about his roots and how he moved to Nashville to follow his dream of being a country music singer. He stuck to a non-political script, portraying himself as a simple guy who just wanted to sing about “things that mean a lot to me,” and was grateful that others related to his songs.
Not one person hollered at him to shut up and sing, but fans were definitely there for the music, on their feet singing and dancing to Wallen’s blend of rock and country, and going bonkers for hits like Everything I Love, Cowgirls (which also featured opening act, Ernest), Thinkin Bout Me, not to mention the Whiskey Glasses finale.
The crowd-pleasing spectacle came with a top-notch band and all the special effects of an arena-rock blowout, including video screens, fog, flames and a dazzling array of lights.
Overall, the show made it clear that Wallen is doing his best to distance himself from his alcohol-fuelled transgressions of the past, which included the use of a racial slur (after which he apologized, went into rehab and made donations to charity). On Thursday, we saw a wholesome and satisfying concert from an artist whose main messages involved loving your mama, following your dreams and appreciating your fans. If he can stay on track, he’s well on his way to becoming the next Garth Brooks.
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