Luke Bryan RodeoHouston, Reliant Stadium March 3, 2012
Luke Bryan is the Ernest Hemingway of country music, in the same way that Hemingway is Subway's Cold Cut Trio of literature. Sure, it's a little simple - almost too simple, really - but it's got everything you need for a satisfying song, novel or sandwich, respectively.
All the ingredients are there; it's just very cut and dry. And it's almost too literal, void of metaphors and symbolism, but honest in its delivery. As we sat there and watched Bryan onstage, listened to and digested his music, we realized that everyone around us was hearing this man as if they have never heard music before.
In spite of not being able to play piano "worth a dang," Bryan's cover of Dan Seals' "Everything That Glitters (is Not Gold)" halfway through his set was by far his best and most heartfelt song of the evening, even with a few vocal hiccups at the beginning of the choruses. But - full disclosure - we're kind of suckers for sad lyricism accompanied only by acoustic guitar or piano.
Wait, what? Who said that? We meant "metal." We're suckers for metal... Yeah.
The concert began fittingly with a montage of old men talking about rain, about how important it is to their livelihood - in this case, to growing crops somewhere in Texas - before Bryan performed "Rain is a Good Thing." It was an appropriate opening for a show in Houston, since the good Lord has seen fit to bless us with such a bounty of the stuff after Satan's Summer.
Bryan's voice sounded muted and distant during the first two verses of "Rain," but by the second chorus, his sound technicians had worked out the kinks, and the rest of the show went off without a hitch -- sort of, depending on your definition of a hitch. There were plenty of uncomfortable moments to come, highlighted near the end of the show, when the gigantic screens in the center of Reliant Stadium were packed with Bryan's butt cheeks.
In "Country Man," we're pretty sure he made a passing reference to Hoobastank, and while we were busy thinking about what a terrible song "The Reason" is, we heard Bryan purr at the crowd. Did that really just happen? No. No way did he just do that. It must have been a fluke. Moving on.
During "Someone Else Calling You Baby," a heart-breaking ditty akin to Cee-Lo Green's "F*ck You" (minus the less-than-subtle bitter temperament), Bryan continued to awkwardly hop around stage, as he had been doing all evening, moving his hips as much as if not more than the young girls who frequent Coco Loco Thursday nights. It bore a slight resemblance to dancing and, much to our chagrin, he even indulged the crowd to a little air-guitar solo as his band's lead guitarist wailed on his instrument.
Dude! You have an actual guitar onstage, and you've been playing it, so why do you feel the need to play air guitar? Women only think that's cool when they've been drinking too heavily at their favorite watering hole and are already smitten with you when your favorite song comes on the jukebox. And even then, they're probably still laughing at you. They're just doing it quietly or in a way that makes them look smitten with your drunk ass. Stick to the real deal, man.
Bryan's brand-new single, "Drunk on You," was catchy, upbeat and advocated getting drunk on women and high on summertime, two extracurricular activities we fully support (if you get rid of those pesky direct objects, that is). "Drunk on You," for all its silliness, got our feet tapping as we watched as the women around us begin to move their bodies to the rhythm.
During "Drinking Beer and Wasting Bullets," which had an more of an alt-rock than alt-country feel save for the twangy vocal lines, Bryan gave the crowd his best impression of opera, holding a few notes as long as he could and adding plenty of vibrato before a guitar solo brought it all home as the arena roared.
"All My Friends Say" was accompanied by a verse and chorus from Metallica's "Enter Sandman," as Bryan asked the crowd, "Who's going to Never-Never-Land tonight?"
As the evening came to an end, while Bryan made his way around the arena, high-fiving fans and ending up with a Texas Longhorn ballcap atop his head, there were plenty of up-close shots of his buttocks that he had been shaking so eagerly all night. During "Country Girls, Shake It For Me," he even gave the ladies a treat by pulling a man out of the crowd and asking him to "shake it" for everyone.
The man obliged, and Bryan suggested he slow it down a little, then demonstrated how one should "shake it," as the ladies cheered.
As a whole, his performance was both fun and well-executed, but it was also one of the more awkward shows we've seen over the years. Even Bryan's fans were giggling at him. Or maybe they were giggling because he's cute or because that's exactly what he was trying to get the crowd to do.
Say what you will about the music, if you must, but 71,000 attendees is quite a respectable number.
Personal Bias: Going to the Rodeo is a right of passage for Houstonians. We wouldn't miss it for the world. And if you're thinking about taking this year off, just tell yourself, "You know what? I deserve a fried Oreo." Go get one, champ.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Popular country music is like catnip for women."
Random Notebook Dump: Actually, now that we think about it, Bryan is nothing like Hemingway, and we apologize to whomever we may have offended with that analogy. You get it in theory though, right? No? OK, sorry again.