Aftermath had doubts about Rascal Flatts, whose 2004 hit "God Bless the Broken Road" was the only song we were really familiar with before Wednesday night's performance at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. But we spent the first part of the week watching videos and listening to their songs, reading interviews with the band and trying to familiarize ourselves with their material and their fan base. When we showed up at Reliant Arena, we showed up with an open mind. And things started out good. Wednesday was Salute Our Troops Day at the rodeo, and so Rascal Flatts, who performed as part of a USO Iraqi tour in 2007, were preceded by a moving tribute to three Medal of Honor recipients, followed by an impressive unfurling of a giant American flag by marines rappelling several hundred feet from the ceiling of Reliant Stadium. It made Aftermath think of our grandfather, the Korean War vet who is also 97 percent responsible for our taste in country music. And then Rascal Flatts took the stage, living every inch up to their name. As Aftermath has already noted, us Rock Off'ers have been relegated to the Press Box, which means the music is piped in, and for some reason, Rascal Flatts' audio was heavy heavy heavy on the vocals. Lucky us, we got to hear singer Gary LeVox's (LeVox? Really?) every pitchy note. By the second song LeVox somewhat found his... voice... but he certainly didn't seem to be hitting his performance stride in any other way. The poor guy looked so bored onstage it's as if he could barely muster the energy to waddle from one edge to the other. Tons of critics have compared Rascal Flatts to N*Sync-gone-country, and it puzzles Aftermath that the band has one of the youngest demographics in country music, because the boy-band analogy would work if only the group made the slightest effort at being entertaining on stage. We're not saying the trio needs to dance like JT. It's just, the way LeVox limply help that microphone, barely gesturing, barely belting out the words - it made us feel like we were watching a seminar or sermon, not a rock show. And we know - the band comes from Christian music roots. But by the fourth song, when Joe Don Rooney broke out the Talk Box for "Me and My Gang," it all became crystal clear: This music is, like, tailor-made for my mom. Rascal Flatts claims they're named after a "Prominent Oklahoma landmark," and while much of Oklahoma is flat, and there are certainly rascals there, Aftermath, who spent 23 years in the state, has never heard of such a place and can find no mention of the "prominent landmark" on Google or on maps (though we'd be happy to be proven wrong). Like the band's adaptation of stage names, Affliction T-shirts and recitation of "HOUSTON, TEXAS!" every 30 seconds, it all just feels so contrived. It's pretty bad when the most interesting thing the band has done was court controversy for a little side-boobage in their video for "I Melt." It's pretty bad when the pre-concert Rodeo event mutton bustin' was more entertaining than the show. It was a relief, then, to slip out of Reliant just before Rascal Flatts' encore of "Life is A Highway" to head to the Hideout, where the New Man in Black, Austin-based Dale Watson, was performing his trademark vintage truck-driving country. Watson has always preferred outsider status when it comes to Nashville, covering himself in tattoos, wearing all black and sporting an impressive silver rockabilly pompadour. Watson, you can tell, doesn't take himself seriously, poking fun at the music biz with songs like "Country Music My Ass" and "A Real Country Song", music that made Aftermath think to ourselves, now this you can dance to. Indeed, the Hideaway's dance floor was packed with two-steppers, especially during the corny "Quick Quick, Slow Slow". Half the fun of The Hideout is watching the dancers. Watson also debuted a number of new songs, mostly upbeat, and covered Haggard's "Mama Tried." We'd wished we'd been at the Hideout all night. Towards the end of their performance, Rascal Flatts dedicated "Here Comes Goodbye" to the hundreds of uniformed military personnel sitting in the stands. It was a touching move - a required move - but Aftermath couldn't help thinking about what her grandfather the Korean War vet and country music lover would have said about Rascal Flatts. And it wouldn't have been nice. Set List: Summer NIghts Stand Fast Cars Me and My Gang Bless the Broken Road Still Feels Good Here Comes Goodbye Love You Out Loud Take Me There What Hurts the Most Bob That Head Encore Revolution Life Is a Highway
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