CHICAGO — You’d never have known it was a Tuesday night. Come to think of it, you’d never even have known it was 2014.
When Florida Georgia Line took the stage at Chicago’s historic Aragon Ballroom on Tuesday (Sept. 9), there was no way of knowing what era it was, until they started playing.
First, a little history about the 90-year-old venue.
The Aragon — as it’s known around Chicago and in its Uptown neighborhood — was built in 1926 and was originally designed to resemble a Spanish palace courtyard with arched doorways, mosaic tiles and terra cotta everything.
Since then, it’s been a dance hall, a roller skating rink, a boxing venue, a disco and, of course, a music hall.
But a music hall that’s never been all that country. It’s been at least 20 years since the place had a country band onstage. They’ve welcomed the Grateful Dead, Joe Cocker, Jethro Tull, Stevie Wonder, the Turtles, Ike and Tina Turner, the Beach Boys, Genesis, the Eagles, Aerosmith, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Kiss, Journey, Rush, ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, Billy Idol, Iron Maiden, Metallica and so many more. But other than a little Charlie Daniels Band and Willie Nelson, the place just doesn’t have that country vibe.
And yet, in walked Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, and all of the sudden, it’s a sea of nearly 5,000 fans in cowboy boots and band T-shirts, packed in tight on the standing-room-only floor.
With their six-man band backing them, the duo made the room feel intimate for their 15-song set, which was part of the American Express Membership Experiences concert series.
Opening with album cuts “It’z Just What We Do” and “Party People,” then moving seamlessly into the massive hit singles “Round Here” and “This Is How We Roll,” Hubbard and Kelley packed as much country rock into the 75-minutes show as they could.
At one point, they both jumped off the stage and walked out into the waiting high-fives of the crowd. Then Hubbard took the time to tell the fans why the night meant so much to him and Kelley.
“We’re just a couple of rednecks that didn’t know a whole lot,” he explained. “But this life can be very short. So it’s y’all’s responsibility to make sure nobody ever forgets the night they partied with Florida Georgia Line. Can you feel me?”
As Kelley pointed out that they don’t play many indoor shows these days, Hubbard promised to blow the roof off the place.
Which they did, in theory. But even on the ballads like “Dirt” — and the even quieter a cappella outro on the song — the crowd’s enthusiasm stayed high.
Later, the duo played the title track from their upcoming album Anything Goes. And at the very end of their set, when they were almost finished playing their debut hit “Cruise,” Kelley carefully folded up the set list that had been taped to the stage floor and tossed it into the crowd for one lucky fan.
Last week, Florida Georgia Line performed a club gig at Nashville’s Exit/In as part of CMT’s new Instant Jam concert series. The episode will premiere Oct. 18.