Kip Moore Rocks CMT on Tour's Opening Night

Charlie Worsham, Sam Hunt Help Launch the Roadwork in New York City

NEW YORK CITY -- The last few years, the headliners for the annual CMT on Tour have basically been artists who were already in the process of becoming country superstars, like Hunter Hayes (2013), Jake Owen (2012) and Luke Bryan (2011). This time around, the tour is featuring rising star Kip Moore at the top of the bill.

Moore is a pretty safe bet. His 2012 debut album, Up All Night, hit No. 3 and sported three huge singles, and the follow-up, due early next year, is hotly anticipated to say the least. Filling out the bill are Charlie Worsham, whose debut, Rubberband made it to No. 12 last year, and Sam Hunt, a former college football quarterback who has already scored a No. 4 hit with "Leave the Night On." The track is from his debut album, Montevallo, set for release on Oct. 27.

When the tour kicked off Thursday night (Sept. 25) at Buy Theater in New York's Times Square, Hunt began the show with a concise set that gave the Georgia native just enough time to show off his hit-bound blend of pop hooks and country-boy charm before Worsham stormed the stage.

Before he even opened his mouth, it was obvious Worsham wasn't your average country singer. He kicked off the title track from his album by firing out heavy-duty rock riffs from a Flying V guitar, a weapon of choice for '70s/'80s hard rockers. Instead of the Western footwear sported by 99 percent of his peers, Worsham was shod in simple sneakers, and the tune itself came off like a twanged-up equivalent to Billy Squier's '80s rock smash "The Stroke."

But it didn't take long for Worsham to reveal his down-home bona fides on "Could It Be" and "Young to See," pulling out a banjo for the latter. Worsham spent the summer opening up for Brad Paisley. Like Paisley, he's a hotshot guitar slinger as well as a singer-songwriter. The Berklee College of Music alumnus' acoustic solo on "Break What's Broken" was as impressive as his rock-tinged electric leads. Between his amped-up licks, sunny vocal harmonies and clap-along choruses, you could hear as much Alabama or Eagles as '80s rock in his approach.

Moore, on the other hand, offers up no ambiguities when it comes to his rocking roots. With a sleeveless flannel shirt and gritty vocal tone set to his big, rocking riffs and stadium-size sound, he entered with a bang, riding on the gargantuan guitar sound of new song "Wild Ones." By the time he got to "Break My Heart," another new tune expected to be on his next album, Moore had somehow managed to make the 2,100-capacity venue feel like a full arena with an outsized sound that matched his larger-than-life stage presence.

Things shifted into a slightly earthier -- though no less rocking -- feel for "Reckless (Still Growin' Up)," with the band adopting a blend of Rolling Stones swagger and Southern rock swampiness. Moore wryly revealed that the tune's final verse was inspired by a producer who tried to get him to cowboy up his image for more commercial appeal.

Moore must have felt plenty of New York City love when the crowd started singing along with every word of his gold-selling single "Beer Money," from which he segued into a cover of the Faces' classic rock staple, "Stay With Me." Before launching into his latest Top 40 tune, "Dirt Road," Moore wondered aloud how much New Yorkers surrounded by tall buildings might actually know about the song's subject, but it didn't allay the audience's enthusiasm for the tune a bit.

Moore took a moment to talk about his upcoming album, informing the crowd that the making of the record has been a long, tough haul with too many people offering opinions about which direction things should take. Unsurprisingly, Moore said, "I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do," before delivering the subtle, subdued tune "My Heart's Desire," slated for inclusion on the record. In fact, from the amount of new songs in the set (also including "Going Our Separate Ways," the heavy-riffing travelogue "Lipstick" and the nice-and-greasy bump and grind of "Backseat"), it became increasingly clear that Moore is a man with the future firmly on his mind.

Of course, that didn't stop him from closing the opening night of what he informed the crowd was his first headlining tour with his first hit, the No. 1 single "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck." Underlining his heartland-rock roots one last time, Moore emerged for an encore of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'," offering a final reminder that his brand of country beats with a rock 'n' roll heart.

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