NEW YORK CITY — Anybody wondering whether Cole Swindell could become the next Luke Bryan got some clues on Wednesday (Nov. 9) when CMT on Tour 2016 hit New York City’s Terminal 5 with Swindell as the headliner.
Firstly, and most obviously, Bryan was the point man for the CMT tour five years ago, just when he was busting out bigger than ever. And those who’ve been paying attention already know that in addition to touring with Bryan, Swindell wrote his 2014 hit “Roller Coaster.” The two certainly share a sonic simpatico; both hit-makers freely mix country with pop, rock, R&B, dance and hip-hop influences as the moment demands. But most importantly, as was underscored simply by eyeing the New York audience, Swindell echoes Bryan’s ability to get both sides of the gender divide in the palm of his hand.
After an opening set by fellow Georgia talent Jon Langston, Swindell started off his set with a dizzying display of lights that wouldn’t have seemed out of place at an arena-rock show before kicking off with his 2014 platinum single “Hope You Get Lonely Tonight.” He edged things up just a notch for “Wildlife” from his new Down Home Sessions III EP, with its rocking guitar leads and hip-hop-inflected groove.
Things got good and twangy with the country-rocking party tune “Brought to You by Beer” from Swindell’s 2014 debut album. Then it was time for dancing, as he leaned into the throbbing disco-flavored pulse of “You’ve Got My Number,” another tune off the new EP. Swindell started bringing things back down with “Chillin’ It,” the kick-back country-pop tune with Southern hip-hop underpinnings that gave him a No. 1 single straight out of the gate in 2013. Things took a romantic turn with another new tune, “Chevrolet DJ,” a ballad with a dash of electronic dance-pop to its arrangement.
Announcing that he’d be heading out on tour with Dierks Bentley next year, Swindell dug into “Flatliner,” a tune from his latest album, You Should Be Here, that features a guest vocal from Bentley. A dance-rock tune with a Southern twist, it owes as much to Duran Duran as it does to Bentley. Then the lights went blue and things got moody for the love song “Kiss” from the first Down Home Sessions EP, with its mix of electronic beats and organic country-pop.
Suddenly it became obvious that there were as many guys as girls mouthing the words and gesticulating along with every line, even as some of the couples in the audience broke into some serious slow dancing. The same went for the even moodier, more bittersweet “Stay Downtown” from Swindell’s recent LP.
Most of the band left the stage as Swindell and his guitarist sat themselves on a couple of stools to deliver an acoustic ballad, “Remember Boys,” taking the opportunity to reminisce about playing in that same format for his very first gig in a bar back in 2001. It being the night after the most divisive, fiercely competitive presidential election in recent history (if not ever), Swindell — seemingly in a sentimental mood — then took a welcome, unifying tack by telling the crowd, “Country music unites us all. Whether you’re right side or left side, we’re all country music fans.”
The sentimental vibe continued with “The Back Roads and the Back Row,” a laid-back tune that draws on Swindell’s Georgia upbringing. In a bit of foreshadowing, he and his band tore into a cover of the old Brooks & Dunn hit “Red Dirt Road” before moving on to “No Can Left Behind.” Saying that the latter tune “sounds like it came out of 1993 from a honky-tonk bar,” he went on to detail his youthful love affair with the ‘90s sounds of Alan Jackson, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire.
Swindell closed the set with the country-rock kiss-off tune with his platinum single “Ain’t Worth the Whiskey,” with the band amping things up for an anthemic ending. After a short break, he came bounding back for an encore with his 2015 No. 1 tune “You Should Be Here.” The female portion of the audience falling under the spell of the sad, yearning ballad was pretty much a given, but a look around the room quickly revealed that a number of burly bros were unabashedly swaying arm-in-arm to the tune as well.
The evening ended on the hook-heavy, dance club-ready “Let Me See Ya Girl,” a gold single from 2015. By the time he was done, Swindell had shown the New York crowd that not only could he trot out a set with as many eclectic, high-charting hits as Luke Bryan, he could get the guys and gals going with equal intensity.
Those two factors together just might indicate that his status could soon rise to level nearly as lofty as that of his fellow CMT on Tour alumnus. Now we’ll just have to wait another year to find out if 2017’s headliner has what it takes to become the next Cole Swindell.