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JASON ALDEAN/EMERSON DRIVE – San Jose, CA

by Jody Mason

Whenever someone comes back from a concert and giddily announces that the performer is even better live than recorded, I’m usually a little dubious. It seems unlikely that a recording artist would sound better accompanied by guitar feedback and a crackling microphone above the din of a large crowd. And it seems cliché to describe a good concert in terms of better or worse than the recording.

So indulge me for a moment as use this exact technique to review Emerson Drive’s opening act for Jason Aldean on Friday, August 29, at the San Jose Municipal Stadium. The band came onstage before sundown, while the crowd was still a little self-conscious or perhaps still sober, and worked like maniacs to get everyone excited. Brad Mates bared his neck veins through his open-collared shirt as he sang on-key the entire time. My friend Amy and I only took our eyes off him to watch David Pichette maintain an easy grin gracing his face while he furiously worked the fiddle.

Emerson Drive played a long set, well past sundown, and when darkness set in they covered Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Fishing in the Dark,” which warmed up the crowd for later when they played “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and I could have gone home happy at that moment. I was so surprised by the energy and vigor Emerson Drive brought to the stage I became an instant fan. When I hear their songs on the radio I nod approval, but there is nothing like actually seeing them play music.

By the time Jason Aldean came out to play, more fans gathered near the stage to watch him lumber out on long, thin legs that covered the stage in probably three or four strides. The guy is huge, with broad shoulders and a white cowboy hat, and a tough demeanor that you just know is all soft inside.

His band mates sported t-shirts of various musical genres, including Sex Pistols and what I think was the profile of Frank Zappa, but may well have been that of Jesus. I was too far to tell the difference. Even Jason strayed from country music for a bit to sing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” and later Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine.” You get the idea that Aldean and his band love a good song no matter what and they are willing to show a country crowd how it can be done. Some of their best original songs played that night were “Hick Town” and “Johnny Cash,” and like Emerson Drive, Jason sounds great in concert.

The Municipal Stadium proved to be an excellent concert venue, with plenty of grass for the kids to run around on, cheap food, and mostly hassle-free parking. It all made for a great live music experience.

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