Luke Combs is on a rocket ship. The country singer/songwriter’s meteoric rise over the past few years has been rivaled only by the rapid ascent of Greta Van Fleet, who live on the other side of tracks on Rock N’ Roll Boulevard. In other words, in country, Combs is king. At least in the eyes of his fans.
More than 14,000 of Combs’ crusaders packed into a sold out Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Saturday night to catch the singer/songwriter, who was last in Des Moines as an opener for Jason Aldean on May 12, 2018. My, how things have changed.
Gone is the limited staging and shortened set of an opening act playing to half full houses. In the minutes leading to Combs taking the stage, fans had already lit up Wells Fargo Arena with their cell phone flashlights in anticipation.
It helps to have six No. 1 singles under your belt with just one album to your credit, the platinum “This One’s For You” of 2017, which produced the chart-topping “Hurricane,” “When It Rains It Pours,” “One Number Away,” “She Got The Best of Me,” and “Beautiful Crazy.” Combs continued his roll into 2019 with the release of his sixth straight No. 1 single, “Beer Never Broke My Heart” from his forthcoming second album, “What You See Is What You Get,” due Nov. 8.
In Des Moines, Combs touched all of those bases and then some, adding in new songs “Even Though I’m Leaving;” the aforementioned “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” with its simple yet thumping bass line; and “1,2 Many,” which flowed into the set seamlessly as well. You have to hand it to the guy. Although his sound leans more toward 1990s country (of which he is a self-avowed fan) than it does to today’s line-erasing versions of the genre, he’s hit on a formula that is one part country, one part rock n’ roll, and one part honky tonk. What was absent on this night was any sign of bro country or rap. Combs smartly did what he does best and stuck to the game plan that has sent the likes of Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Brooks and Dunn into the country music stratosphere. That being hook -filled choruses from songs that last no longer than four minutes tops. Rinse and repeat. And speaking of Brooks and Dunn, almost as a nod to the road they’ve paved for Combs, he rolled out his cover of their hit song, “Brand New Man” in the cherished encore slot.
The hokey “Beer Can” worked within the context of the proceedings, as did set staples “When It Rains It Pours,” and “One Number Away.”
In a move likely only appreciated by the musicians in the crowd, instead of simply introducing his six-piece band to the audience by name, Combs went one step further and gave each of the band members time at the mic during a covers medley that included “The Ride,” “I’m Gonna Be Somebody,” and “Fortunate Son.” Giving personalities to the players — no matter who they are, or what part they play in the grand scheme of things — is smart.
The acoustic “Dear Today,” brought out the songwriter in Combs, who, unlike most Nashville artists, has a hand in penning most of his songs.
Combs’ signature red Solo cup was ever present, of course, and by the end of the night a few of them littered the sparse stage behind him. Betting money says the cups will continues as long as his success does. And at this rate, he’d better stock up. A mere five years ago he was a college dropout with just three classes left. He signed his first record deal three years ago, and now he’s packing arenas across the States. The momentum is his.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” a grateful Combs told the audience on multiple occasions.
In short amount of time, neither can we. But more power to him. Combs should ride this meteor until his cup goes dry, because at some point, what goes up, will always come down.