The problem with Jake Owen is he makes it look so dang easy. Thursday night's (April 27) show at Nashville's Ascend Amphitheater was an almost effortless 75 minutes of music and excitement, and that's frustrating for a journalist doing his best to be objective.

The "Eight Second Ride" singer doubled down on his catalog, playing quasi hits like "Real Life" with as much gusto as singalongs like "Beachin'" and "Barefoot Blue Jean Night," the set's bookends. "If He Ain't Gonna Love" was made for moments like this — a perfect 70 degrees on the lawn of one of Nashville's best venues. "VW Van," "Good Company" and "American Country Love Song" are three more he played from his most recent American Love album. Tempo dominated, as "Alone With You" was about the only sit-down song of the night.

Like many who headline Ascend, it took three songs for the crowd to really start paying attention. An unexpected but satisfying cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" (hey, if you hire a horn section, why not use 'em?) may have been the only true risk. They kept blowing into his latest single, and from there, the energy didn't dip.

Owen's tremendous stage presence allows him to float about and chase whimsy. So many times he danced quite comfortably at the back of the stage as his guitarist, horn players or harmonica player were featured. "Days of Gold" was a dizzying blues-country-rock jam complete with pyrotechnics that bled into "VW Van." By radio standards, these aren't hits, but when played live they're impossible to dismiss. "How did 'If He Ain't Gonna Love You?' not become a summer anthem?" one wonders.

A Candid Shoot With Jake Owen

The set was free of gimmicks. He never ventured into the audience, and no one joined him unexpectedly onstage. If the crowd clapped along it was because they felt it, not because the bassist implored them to do so. He spoke of his appreciation for those who helped him get to this point only briefly, barely long enough to mention that his daughter, Pearl, was watching from the back. Like Chipotle, Owen's live show is free of filler.

A cover of Merle Haggard's "Footlights" (a song Owen sang at the legend's tribute concert earlier in April) started an encore that also featured "American Country Love Song," "Barefoot Blue Jean Night" and the customary Ascend fireworks. And then he left us wanting more. The ease of which this all happens — if his brow glimmered with sweat beads, they weren't visible from Row Q — is remarkable and surely discouraging for some who've worked as hard without the results. One understands the criticism thrown at the 35-year-old (He is the popular kid in class who's good at everything), but resentment is a really difficult emotion to hold onto when you've danced through his live show.

Eric Paslay and Lanco opened for Owen, with Lanco's brief set featuring singles "Greatest Love Story" and "Long Live Tonight" and Paslay's set leaning hard on his hits. He too is an underrated live performer. While not quite as mobile as the night's headliner, his voice and physical presence demand your attention for a full 45 minutes.

See Jake Owen and More Shirtless Country Stars

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