In the opening moments of his two-hour set, Chesney laid Aldean out flat and never looked back.
The 47-year-old Tennessee native began his performance, singing Drink It Up, suspended above the crowd of 47,256 on a small chair which ultimately deposited him on the sprawling stage erected in the east end zone.
It was a show-stopping (or, in this instance, a show-starting) moment, and one which lit the fuse on an explosively entertaining evening.
Chesney’s The Big Revival tour, so named for his 2014 studio album (and his 15th overall), effectively and effortlessly used the cavernous stadium, creating a startling sense of intimacy. (The multi-platinum singer-songwriter also gets bonus points for correctly noting he was in Arlington at the outset, something Aldean couldn’t be bothered to do.)
Chesney spent much of the show sprinting from one end of the enormous stage to the other, flanked by his equally restless bandmates, a barrage of video screens and adoring fans in every corner of the room.
“We are here for one simple reason: you people are here,” Chesney declared not long after taking the stage. “I have an idea where I want to take you tonight — will you come with us?”
The ecstatic audience, singing along to nearly every tune and snapping endless photos, would’ve risen up and marched on the Rangers’ ballpark next door if Chesney had asked them to.
He held the throng in the palm of his hand throughout, expertly working tonal shifts from laid-back island escapism (Summertime; No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems) to romantic yearning (I Go Back; Somewhere With You) to patriotic nostalgia (American Kids; The Boys of Fall).
There were multiple moments Saturday where Chesney, no stranger to jam-packed rooms of this size, seemed clearly overwhelmed by the energy inside AT&T Stadium.
He would step back from the microphone, and let the audience sing his songs back to him, the enormity of the moment just breaking over him like a wave.
In those instances, it was possible to glimpse Chesney as something of a Caribbean-tinged George Strait for the 21st century, a simple, direct man singing of things both complicated and not, but who has fostered such a deep, intense connection with his audience, that scenes of the sort witnessed Saturday are merely the shape of things to come.
Jason Aldean’s 85-minute set, the latest stop on his “Burn It Down” tour and one of the handful of joint appearances he’s making with Chesney at American stadiums this summer, by contrast, was more agrarian arena rock than out-and-out country (Aldean described it Saturday as country music that “veers to the left and to the right”).
The Georgia native entered with enough pyro and amped-up guitars to make a WWE wrestler envious, with fireballs and fireworks detonating at regular intervals throughout his opener, Hicktown.
Pulling from his most recent LP, 2014’s Old Boots, New Dirt, the 38-year-old Aldean, backed by a five-piece band, worked through his aggressively monochromatic catalog — it’s either a party, a break-up or time to get rowdy, without fail — with plenty of sweat, but precious little flair.
He is not, he admits, a loquacious, charismatic figure — “I’m not a guy who’s gonna stand up here and talk,” Aldean explained early on — but with his microphone often mashed against his mouth, the lyrics to songs like Amarillo Sky or Fly Over States or 1994 slipping out in tight chunks, any semblance of connection was just lost.
Aldean often seems as if he’s gritting his teeth just to get through the evening.
Couple that diffident, strained performance style with an over-reliance on literal pyrotechnics — the finale, She’s Country, almost unfolded as if Aldean’s crew meant to torch the whole stage instead of striking it so Chesney could set up — and Aldean’s set felt like the country music equivalent of the comic book movies flooding the multiplexes of America: no stakes, no real sense of discovery, just cautious and boring maintenance of the brand.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713