Jason Aldean Reliant Stadium March 20, 2011
You can tell everything you need to know about Jason Aldean by looking at his steel guitarist's forearms Sunday.
First, he had a steel guitarist. Of the handful of Rodeo acts Aftermath saw this year, not everyone had a fiddle, but everyone except Kid Rock and Janet Jackson had a steel guitar. We won't go so far as to say this automatically makes Aldean country, but it doesn't hurt.
Before we go any further, one request: Entertainers, please introduce your band, and introduce them so the players' names can be heard distinctly. That may be one hurdle the Reliant sound engineers - who overall did a much better job this year - may not be able to clear yet, but still, it would be nice.
Like Steel Guy here. Those forearms were as heavily tattooed as any given member of your average alternative-rock band. Yeah, we know - tattoos on a musician. Big deal.
But in this case, those tattoos made perfect sense during the last two songs of the set, "Hicktown" and "She's Country," which stepped way over the contempo-country line with riffs that bordered on hard rock and even metal. The muddin' videos during the former also made us smile, because it's not like we were expecting Jones Hall or anything.
We're not talking about Seether here, and we don't expect to see Aldean at Buzz Fest anytime soon, but those two songs were more muscular than anything else we heard at the Rodeo this year except Martina McBride's voice. Kid Rock included.
Up until then, the set was heavy on rockers that weren't quite that mosh-friendly, but seemed to exist for the purpose of showing off Aldean's limber band more than making any kind of statement. "Tattoos On This Town" opened with a steamy blues intro that suggested the Alan Parsons Project plus a banjo; "Amarillo Sky" had a lot of Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road"; and Aldean's estimation of Nashville, "Crazy Town" ("make all the drunk girls scream and shout") made a solid case that country - as it's called today - is the new arena rock.
Aftermath should mention that Aldean himself does have a record (or CD or iTunes) library that includes more traditional country, at least if you go by the lyrics of "Johnny Cash" (q.e.d.) and "My Kinda Party," which shouts out George Strait - big cheer from the crowd - and "old Hank."
We're guessing that means Hank Williams Jr.'s early material rather than "Jambalaya" or "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used To Do," if only because Bocephus is a much better soundtrack to muddin' and killin' cases of Bud Light than his daddy. But you never know.
And speaking of the ladies, Rocks Off has just begun a research project to discover why they must find farm equipment so attractive, based entirely on the amount of young women in the crowd who swooned when he started up "Big Green Tractor." Among the other ballads, "Why" and "Don't You Want To Stay" - hello, Kelly Clarkson on the video screen - provoked similar reactions and lots of singing along with steel guitar straight out of the Wallflowers' "Sixth Avenue Heartache."
Overall, Aftermath will admit we probably enjoyed Aldean's show more as a stiff palate-cleanser from a rough four days at SXSW than on its own musical merits. At the same time, we're not sorry we went at all, and it was especially gratifying to see the Rodeo closing out the year with one eye firmly cocked toward the future.
Personal Bias: None. The only previous exposure I'd had to Aldean was hearing a couple of his songs on KILT while eating at Pappa's B-B-Q downtown, which I did not know were his until I heard them Sunday.
The Crowd: The faces of Young Country 2011, 70,009 strong.
In the Crowd On the Carnival Midway: "I ain't walking through that shit."
Random Notebook Dump: The Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo set a new attendance record this year, with 2.26 million people passing through the Reliant Park turnstiles, and five concerts making the all-time Top 20 list: Brad Paisley (No. 3, 73,825); Miranda Lambert (No. 4, 73,811); La Arrolladorra Band el Limon/La Leyenda (No. 5, 73,469); Selena Gomez (No. 15, 72,709); and KISS (No. 19, 72,384).
Also: Nice pre-concert laser show courtesy of Reliant Energy. The Museum of Natural Science should talk to whoever was behind this.
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Tattoos On This Town Amarillo Sky Big Green Tractor Why The Truth Crazy Town Don't You Want To Stay My Kinda Party Dirt Road Anthem Laughed Until We Cried Johnny Cash Relentless Hicktown She's Country