Blake Shelton Reliant Stadium March 15, 2013
I want to like Blake Shelton. I really do. But damned if he doesn't make it nearly impossible.
Shelton might make a decent country singer if he didn't look so pleased with himself, and if his music pushed the needle on the give-a-damn ometer even into the yellow once in a while. Friday night at RodeoHouston, he gave off an air of someone who had just eaten a big meal and was about to undo not only his belt buckle but perhaps the top button of his trousers as well.
That's not a particularly good look at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, where belt buckles mean something. If it's possible for someone to be both smug and shiftless at the same time, Shelton was.
I sensed trouble might be brewing right off the bat, with the lackadasical manner in which Shelton delivered supposed party-anthem opener "All About Tonight." The singer delivered the lyrics of "feel-good pills" and "dumbass buddies" with not even enough energy to punch his way through a wet paper bag.
It was more like maybe we'll party, maybe we won't. Then he made it worse by declaring "we're gonna get our swerve on." Meh. Just don't.
Shelton carried this alleged good-timin' theme through the next two songs, "Some Beach" and "Drink On It," without increasing the intensity at all. For a guy who purports to enjoy singing about surf and sand and suds, Kenny Chesney he is not.
But even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while. "Ol' Red," his swampy ode to a prison hound, pushed across some legitimate bluesy twang. And I'm sorry, but hearing "Hillbilly Bone" makes the 12-year-old in me crack up every time.
Shelton also seems to do a little better when the lights are lower, with sweeping romantic ballads like "Honeybee," "Austin," new single "Sure Be Cool If You Did," and "Over," which was so melodramatic the rodeo should have run clips from various Lifetime movies on the video screens above the revolving stage.
None of them are all that memorable, really, but they do seem to work pushing the buttons of Shelton's scores of female fans, which packed Reliant by the extended-cab truckload Friday. Miranda, ladies, he's all yours.
Oh yes. For some reason I feel obliged to point out that Shelton also covered George Strait's "All My Exes Live In Texas." It takes a lot of nerve for a guy from Oklahoma to cover that song at this rodeo, standing in front of a giant digital Texas flag no less, three days before its proprietor was scheduled to play the same stadium.
That said, let the one real compliment I pay Shelton in this review (or one and a half, anyway) be that he was at least self-aware enough to admit to Friday's crowd that when it comes to this song, he is standing on the shoulders of a giant. But even that admission somehow felt like some ass-backward pat on his own back. And of course Shelton's version lacked the sly twinkle of King George's, but did I really even need to type that half-sentence?
Shelton eventually closed out his set with another cover, "Footloose," which was OK in a Friday-night, who-gives-a-shit sort of way, the musical equivalent of the cotton candy being sold nearby. It was no reason to forget Kenny Loggins' original, that's for sure.
Meanwhile at SXSW, Loggins himself was performing with his new Americana band Blue Sky Riders -- including, to my great amusement, at Rachael Ray's annual day party -- and appearing on the panel "Indie at Any Age," still on his hustle at age 65. Such times we live in.
Personal Bias: Not only Shelton but his drummer, clad in a sleeveless Nudie-style Western shirt and necktie, really bothered me.
The Crowd: Full to the rafters of fans no doubt oblivious to all the Lil Wayne drama playing out on Twitter, which was a thousand times more entertaining than Shelton. Glad Weezy is okay, if perhaps only temporarily.
Overheard In the Crowd: "You wanna man up?" -- a young future CEO behind me after the show, discussing the possibility of doing shots with his buddies
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Mutton Bustin' Report: I'm going to miss those damn sheep, especially when they hop into the air after bucking another hapless kid.