Old Dominion brought its sharp pop-country lyrics and hooks to a sold-out show at the Anthem.
The state of Virginia is, at the moment, unexpectedly fraught. A legacy of racial brutality and violence has reared its head again.
Old Dominion, the pop-country band whose name should ring a bell with everyone who’s made it through the fourth-grade Virginia Studies curriculum, doesn’t like to dwell on all that. The bruised feelings it sings about are more likely to stem from disappearing bubbles on a romantic text thread.
At a sold-out Anthem show on Saturday night, as the band recalled humble gigs at places such as Arlington’s Rhodeside Grill and the shuttered Grog and Tankard, the members of Old Dominion were clearly enjoying the fruits of nearly two decades’ work in the business of crafting songs for the country music mainstream.
The experience of it — one irresistible hook after another — was ecstatically fun and yet somehow strange: These are grown men, pushing or past 40, with families. The magic that they — and, let’s face it, the entirety of country radio programming — bottle is the conviction that, no matter how old you are, that moment in the back seat of a truck on a dirt road should always feel like it was yesterday.
A big reason for this disconnect is that Old Dominion’s success has been anything but meteoric. Metamorphic would be a better way of describing it. Although the guys have ties to Virginia state universities, they actually formed in Nashville. Their initial goal was to break into elite songwriting circles and sell hits for other country artists. They’ve done that for the likes of Luke Bryan, Kenny Chesney, Sam Hunt and many others. On Saturday, the band’s core three songwriters — Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rosen and Brad Tursi — showcased a handful of these hired-gun gems. They could have continued indefinitely; the band’s songwriting résumé is as long as your arm.
At some point, they resolved to keep some for themselves and make it on their own shingle. Two collections (2015’s “Meat and Candy” and 2017’s “Happy Endings”) have resulted so far. Both are excellent, and the Anthem’s closest-thing-they-have-to-a-hometown crowd delighted in “Be With Me,” “Break Up With Him,” “Hotel Key,” “Beer Can in a Truck Bed” and on and on for 90 effervescent minutes. The songs hew to au courant production trends: electronic snap and clap tracks, hiphop-like verses that mingle with pop melodies and the requisite whoa-oh-ohs to keep you busy.
The ability to carpenter such songs is anything but effortless and should never be taken lightly. It inevitably requires an eye for the clever turn of phrase that has defined country hooks for decades. Old Dominion’s eye is particularly sharp (“I guess I’m making all the right wrong turns tonight”). “Song for Another Time” might have set a record for most song titles ever amassed on a single track: “Before we lose that loving feeling / Let’s go dancing on the ceiling.”
One of the band’s best and most heartfelt hits — “No Such Thing as a Broken Heart” — hinted at a possibility of one day graduating beyond the milieu of college hookups and into the world of adult concerns. Ramsey sings: “What am I gonna tell my kids when they see / all of this bull---t that goes down on TV? / When the whole world is down on its luck / I gotta make sure they keep their chin up.”
Something a little less calculated and slightly more confessional shouldn’t be too much to ask from Old Dominion as they move into this phase of hard-won fame of their own.
Virginia country quintet Old Dominion played a sold-out show at the Anthem on Saturday. In addition to writing popular songs for other country artists, the group captivates with its own heartfelt hits.