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Luke Bryan’s zeal is unmasked in Vegas debut

Updated February 13, 2022 - 4:28 pm

In the years before moving to Las Vegas, I was a Vegas tourist. I made a few trips of three days, two nights, sleeping on one of those nights. I would be with a group of guys from my Northern California home at the time, and we’d get silly, play $2 blackjack, bet football and walk the casinos ‘til we dropped.

We’d shout about never splitting 10s, always doubling down on an 8-3 hand and never asking for insurance. And after hitting a big payout, we’d do something akin to a bossa nova. Making the boarding time on our departing flight was even money.

Luke Bryan is an amalgamation of that crew.

Bryan is a hitmaker who hits the tables, a studious songwriter who’s a quick study of Super Bowl props. He’s also the type of artist who won’t let a dropped margarita halt an acoustic number.

That happened before Bryan’s opener Friday night at the Theatre at Resorts World Las Vegas, as Bryan played “Knockin’ Boots” for a mess o’ VIPs and media types prior to his show. That was among many crowd-pleasers on Bryan’s opening-night setlist.

The superstar is here for a spell, too, having added nine dates from June 15-Sept. 4. He’s already booked for eight more shows this month.

Bryan has sure taken to the city, and has some fortuitous timing. Early in the party, Bryan joked (we think) that he inspired the governor to end mask mandates statewide just a day before his show.

“I’d like to take personal credit getting rid of the mask mandate,” Bryan called out to the 5,000 or so fans in the sold-out crowd. “I feel like the governor saw that we’re coming here and he was just like, ‘Ah (expletive) it.’” (We are working on confirmation of Bryan’s claim.)

And like a gambler who can’t stop hitting the hard 16, Bryan repeatedly bemoaned his bad luck at the tables since arriving in Vegas last Sunday. He always doubles that 8-3 draw, and swears he’s drawn 22 consecutive aces to wreck those hands. So to chase his losses, he’s boosting his NFL bets, and good luck with that.

Bryan is a guy you just know, y’know? Even if you don’t know him. He’s the guy wearing the leather jacket and backward ball cap, the type you need to shush or we’ll get thrown out. He’ll jump on a karaoke mic and level the place, too. He plays the tables, but not the high-limit room, out there hacking it up with the commoners.

Add some worldwide fame and a lavish production show at a new Vegas theater, and you have a heck of a good time.

Bryan filled the place by promising and delivering a hit-laden show, featuring “That’s My Kind of Night” “One Margarita,” an acoustic-piano set with “Strip it Down” and “Do I,” and a show-closing “Country Girl (Shake It for Me”). That last number was played out on a custom-built catwalk some 45 feet above the crowd.

Bryan had a time of it on that set piece, grooving and even sorta-twerking as the crowd went nuts. He fake tossed his hat toward the mezzanine crowd, because he has just that one hat.

Much of Bryan’s stage designs and effects are at least somewhat familiar. He uses pillars of fire, shooting upward but also firing downward toward the stage. That is inventive. Rainstorms played across the Theatre’s imposing video display — bringing to mind the real water effects summoned by Carrie Underwood in her finale in that very theater. Bryan and his band (has Winning Hand been taken? That should be the name) rock it on a multi-tiered stage with collapsing and ascending platforms, often amid smoke and strobes.

And note that this entire spectacle was designed, constructed and loaded in through pandemic supply chain challenges. Good for Team Luke, we say.

Hours after closing the show and folding the catwalk, Bryan said in a statement, “What an amazing night and start to our run of headlining shows at Resorts World Las Vegas. We’ve worked long and hard to put together an incredible, high-energy show for the fans. I am so proud of how it turned out and I hope everyone who comes leaves there having as much fun as me.”

This is some genuine fun, no question. Bryan performed his duet with Chris Stapleton, the aptly titled, “Drink a Beer.” He cracked a brew during the song, acting like a guy whose Las Vegas weekend is just getting started.

Cool Hang Alert

Our friend Anthony James returns The Funk Jam to Sand Dollar Lounge at 10 p.m. Wednesday. The improvisational jam session runs through 2 a.m. Wildly talented. No cover. Great pizza.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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