Last Night: Eli Young Band at House of Blues

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Eli Young Band House of Blues January 31, 2013

They say Texans have lost our twang. Most Texans don't seem to be all that balled up about it.

Rather, the some 1,500 Texan Eli Young Band fans who crammed into House of Blues for the first of two sold-out shows Thursday night were talking (of course), but not about the University of Texas's "Texas English Project." The results of that study, released this week, revealed that the number of us who talk with a pronounced y'all has dropped to practically nothing from as much as 80 percent only 30 years ago.

The ground has certainly shifted. But that does not necessarily make the EYB, whose twang factor Thursday never rose above about a 6, any less Texan. Or more important these days, any less country.

Perhaps Hank Jr. said it best lo those many years ago: Country is a state of mind. For Eli Young Band, who formed out of Denton about 15 years ago, country is a dogged work ethic (very Texan) and songs that have been polished by a lifetime of hearing other songs just like them on the radio.

Not exactly like them, of course. But the shared experience music offers over the wireless is an essential component of many EYB songs, such as "Always the Love Songs," "Radio Waves" and award-winning breakthrough hit "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." Put them in front of a proper crowd (of radio listeners) and selling them isn't quite as easy as selling sno-cones in hell, but it's close enough.

Rather than two-steps and dosey-does, modern country bands such as EYB traffic in connections and shared experiences, whether that means the quartet's effortless chemistry and obvious enjoyment of each other's company onstage, or the impression singer Mike Eli gives to each audience member that he is singing directly to him or her. (Most often her, but not always.) Hear a full house singing the chorus of "Crazy Girl" right back to him and it's easy to get that.

But because the sentiments and the lyrics expressing them can be less than original (if not quite clichéd), that makes it much more important for a band to craft memorable, easily hummable melodies. Thursday, EYB played at least half a dozen, maybe more, before loosening up and jamming out for a while, and teasing the crowd with a bit of Fleetwood Mac's "Rihannon" before one of those half-dozen, "When It Rains."

In effect, this is a high polished bar band that seldom writes songs about drinking. (Luckily Nashville-based openers The Cadillac Black, a sweaty love child of Molly Hatchet and Black Sabbath, more than made up for that.) But they're still country. Before main-set closer "Small Town Kid," Eli explained how far his hometown of Tomball had changed, and then put the band through a song that was a perfect reflection of what that change might sound like in a country song -- one written by a small-town kid who had grown up on Tim McGraw instead of Merle Haggard.

Then in the encore, after "Crazy Girl" and all the swooning that came with it, the band closed with Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Gimme Three Steps," EYB's contribution to the 2010 Sweet Home Alabama tribute album. Many in the crowd commenced the proper rocking-out procedure, and the band acquitted itself nicely indeed.

In introducing it, Eli told the crowd the band had answered the producers' query into the depths of their Skynyrd knowledge with "We know every Skynyrd song." That wasn't hard to believe, after the way the group had already blistered "Oklahoma Girl" and "Levels," even if the latter was a little heavy on some kind of Frampton Comes Alive effects pedal.

So their Skynyrd vouching wasn't hard to believe at all. Still, a much bigger gasp arose when "Steps" was over and "We Are Young," cuddly Brooklyn pop-rockers fun.'s quivering, stately Anthem of Our Times, came on the HOB sound system. Today's country fan, Texan or otherwise, is just as likely to be into fun. as Skynyrd. Probably more.

It truly is a brave new world we live in.

Personal Bias: I spent most of Thursday trying to decide whether or not I like EYB and even before the show decided I do. I like them a little less for not playing "Jet Black & Jealous," though.

The Crowd: Loud and proud. Responsible citizens drinking responsibly, and talking, talking, talking.

Overheard in the Crowd: No one screamed out "whoo-hoo!" when Eli talked about losing a grandparent to Alzheimer's and another to Parkinson's Disease, which I thought was nice.

Random Notebook Dump: This is the only band with no visible tattoos I've seen live in recent memory. It was kind of cool.

Tonight's Eli Young Band/Cadillac Black show at House of Blues is also sold out. Good luck.

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