Gary Allan Reliant Stadium February 26, 2013
Gary Allan is a complicated man. If no one understands him but his woman, it doesn't matter because she's already 30,000 feet above him, on an airplane bound somewhere far away from his ass.
That's the premise of "Watching Airplanes," the 2007 hit that opened Allan's RodeoHouston set at Reliant Stadium. He wants to chase after her, but "that fence is too high and so am I."
The 45-year-old Allan traffics in a tough but traditional brand of country that doesn't shy away from adult situations, whether the steamy romance of "Nothing On But the Radio" or the territorial showdown of "Man to Man," which contains the memorable line "If not for me, she'd be yours today."
Nice. There was more good stuff, too, like the steel-soaked "It Would Be You," a song set entirely in the subjunctive tense and whose title completes the lyric "if you talk about heartache." "Bend" acknowledges that part of being an adult is learning you don't know every damn thing. "Right Where I Need to Be" is about learning to appreciate people who really matter -- a woman who does Allan a damn sight better than the one in "Bones," one of the nastier revenge ballads to come down the pike in a while.
Not just because of his age, Allan belongs to an older class of country musicians, men who did not rely on cowboy schtick or crossover pandering to become successful, only simple songs with a powerful message that lingered long after they were over.
I'm thinking of John Anderson, John Conlee, Don Williams, Bobby Bare Sr. and maybe a few others dating back to Allan's fellow Californian Merle Haggard. Especially on the set's few faster songs, he flashed some of Garth Brooks's steely energy but none of the flamboyance.
For proof, I scanned the crowd during his recent No. 1, "Every Storm Runs Out of Rain," perhaps the biggest hit of Allan's nearly 20-year career. Every woman I saw -- the crowd was not one of the rodeo's biggest, but it was substantial -- was singing the lyrics like she had rehearsed them for hours. It was a pretty powerful moment.
Meanwhile, the men beside them were stone-faced, almost to a one. But one of the few laughs of the evening came when Allan introduced the song by saying that its author, a friend of his in Nashville, got the idea after a weedeater sent an errant rock zooming towards his cranium. Inspiration strikes in the strangest places, no pun intended.
Allan's songs are well-built -- you can picture the blueprints floating above each player's head at times -- and were well-played by his band, half of which looked like standard indie-rockers; one guitarist wore a kilt, the other rainbow-starburst jeans. The fiddler and steel player instead looked like they were plucked from a studio scene from ABC's Nashville.
Honestly, though, Allan's songs are entirely too intimate for the rodeo's stadium setting. (It was his third time.) Tuesday night was just fine, but I look forward to seeing him at a smaller venue, where he can generate some real heat.
Personal Bias: I dig Gary Allan more and more the more I listen to him. He is a rare breed in mainstream country these days -- an honest-to-God grownup -- and his continued success is encouraging.
The Crowd: Almost identical to Toby Keith's Monday night, but almost precisely 20 years younger.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Almost down!" -- a girl of about mutton-bustin' age to her dad (I guess), about three-quarters of the way down the Reliant exit ramp.
Mutton Bustin' Report: The last rider of the night, a girl from Louisiana, rode all the way across the mutton bustin' area and plunged directly into the herd of other sheep. She held on. It was awesome.