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Aftermath: Rascal Flatts at RodeoHouston

Anyone who thought that '80s-style power ballads had long gone away with Kurt Cobain's green sweater and Crystal Pepsi is dead wrong. They are kept alive, nightly, by Columbus, Ohio's Rascal Flatts. Bundled-up couples of all ages walked hand-in-hand, and apple-lotion-scented gangs of teen girls made their way into Reliant Stadium Tuesday night to watch America's modern-day Air Supply with a twang bust out hit after hit. The rodeo folks really dug deep this year for the new stage lighting. It looked like someone had swathed the formerly Spartan stage in plasma television screens from top to bottom, which created an almost ethereal backdrop when the things like stars or raindrops were projected on it. We can only imagine what ZZ Top will do with this new toy when they close this thing out. Two words: corneal scarring. Rascal Flatts has cornered the market on the mass-market power ballad. As much as people try to fight off each lick of "Stand" or "My Wish," they end up in your head as ear bugs for days. It's almost devious how much these guys sweetened and tune their songs up, close to the point of an almost automaton-like perfection. Each song is custom-built like a souped-up hot rod, with almost no flourish or guitar vamp going to waste. The thing that gets Flatts over with audiences isn't its cuddly instrumentation, or even lead singer Gary LeVox's buttery-lilt. It's the talent the group has for seemingly holding a death grip on those young and in love. Most songs traffic in romantic martyrdom, extensive longings and that elusive payoff of true love. "I'm Movin' On" hits most teenage girls where they live and breathe. All you really need is a plaintive piano line and a stray mandolin or violin to make a susceptible soul mist up a little. "Bless The Broken Road" has, for all intents and purposes, become the go-to wedding song for a generation. Aftermath saw hundreds of duos making out or just flat slow-dancing in the aisles during the song's sugary outpouring. Without a doubt, this song will be played at numerous nuptials to come for years to come. But these are all wholly universal sentiments. It doesn't matter if it's Conor Oberst, a stray Jonas brother or a chubby dude in designer jeans attached to an Auto-tuner in front of thousands of screaming mouths. It's all the same innately human feelings, just in different poses and clothing. And you can't fault Rascal Flatts for making folks melt for three minutes at a time.

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