Last night Aaron Lewis brought himself and his solo band to the Sands Bethlehem Event Center as they kicked off a large string of tour dates that will take them across the country through out 2015. Of course many know Aaron Lewis from his prolific time as the lead singer of Staind, however in recent years he has been taking a stripped back approach to music becoming more of a singer/songwriter in nature as he cross genres into the American country scene. As a result Lewis has audience has grown tremendously and this meant that the Sands Bethlehem Event Center was nicely full of a crowd around 1,500 for the intimate performance Lewis would put on.
The night would begin without an opening act but that doesn’t mean that the show started without a bang, in fact as Aaron Lewis walked out on stage with his band he announced that they were going to start the night off right. The crowd roared and cheered in response as Aaron Lewis began reciting the pledge of allegiance to a crowd that was fully standing with hats off and hands across their hearts, a fitting compliment to the large American flag that Aaron Lewis was using as a backdrop for his performance. Following the pledge Lewis walked back towards the drums where his numerous guitars were being propped up, grabbed a swig of beer and walked back to the microphone to start the night off with a little bit of country.
Lewis’ first song of the evening, “Country Boy,” off his 2011 release “Town Line” was certainly a fan favorite of the night being welcomed with numerous cheers and yells throughout the song. From there Aaron Lewis and his band took the enthusiastic crowd on a bit of country journey for the portion of the show making sure to work in Lewis’ yet to be released song “Northern Redneck,” the crowd certainly did their homework and knew all of the lyrics though. Having seen Lewis in the past year with Staind it is clear that his heart is truly in his new material, his vocals shine brightest when he is performing acoustically in this setting. The transition from rock to country is sometimes a hard leap to make but Lewis has certainly channeled all he has experienced in life into the songs he has written and as a result I think his fans have taken his efforts seriously. There were plenty of Staind fans in the crowd dying to hear their favorite songs and they would later in the night but the show wasn’t so much about Lewis’ past as it was his future.
After the first few songs Aaron Lewis was left standing alone on the stage as his band walked off to give him the spotlight following a stripped down performance of “Right Here.” During what would be the last performance with his band for a few songs Lewis missed a cue at one point and began laughing saying “who would have thought I would have lost my memory from quitting smoking weed.” The crowd laughed along with him, sharing in this intimate moment during what is certainly one of Lewis’ most popular Staind songs. During his time alone on stage Lewis would take the crowd through many different songs including a good number of covers, one of which being an impressive rendition of Cynid Lauper’s “Time After Time.” His short solo session would end with an impressive dedication of Alice in Chains’ “Rooster” to all the military men and women in the house that evening. The song was met to a large cry of “hoo-rahs” and even a few “Semper-fis,” Lewis’ gesture certainly didn’t go unnoticed amongst those who have served our country in attendance.
Lewis’ band would rejoin him as the plowed the remaining 35 minutes of the set playing a few more country songs including the ever popular “This Ain’t Country,” before diving into a few Staind songs to wrap the night up. As I said before I think Lewis has never sounded better in terms of live performance sound and I am going to have to say this laid-back sound and show style really suits him. The night was full of memorable moments as the crowd yelled out to him and Lewis fed off their constant cheering. Though he has switched to country Aaron Lewis remains a rocker at heart and he brings an edge back to country music that has certainly been lost in the never ending sea of radio friendly country music. While his older fans certainly appreciated hearing the numerous Staind songs during the night there is no denying that Lewis was at his finest when he was embracing his country voice. In fact some of his Staind songs sounded completely different when presented in the stripped down and country sound which makes me hope he will re-release some of them as an EP as he continues his career as a country artist.
Aaron Lewis’ show at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center was one part a memorial to his rock past that got him there and another part a look towards the future of his career and maybe even country music. I think we need an Aaron Lewis on country radio right now, I think we maybe even need some of these songs on rock radio too because we are stuck in a period where there is little risk and innovation being done. While Lewis hasn’t exactly re-invented the wheel with his country music he has certainly found a way to make his wheel shinier and tighter than most, for that I applaud both him and his band at his side. I highly recommend you check out a show of this upcoming tour if you are a fan of country or rock music, you will be hard pressed to find anything comparable out there right now. Aaron Lewis is back in an all new way, and the world better get ready for the changes he is going to bring to country music.