As the lights went down at Rupp Arena last night, one had to wonder if Blake Shelton had become just a touch too uptown for his country boy roots. After all, how many Nashville stars preface their stage entrance with a recording of Bust a Move?
But for the better part of his 90 minute-plus set, the singer who is possibly the most visible country celeb of his day thanks to his TV presence on the hit music talent search show The Voice, was surprisingly faithful to a brand of rocking country that was alternately raunchy and reflective. In fact, the only concession to The Voice (aside from the fact that one of his “team” members, Gwen Sebastian, served as a backup singer) was a cover of the Cee-Lo Green hit Forget You, which the singer launched into vigorously but then just as decidedly halted, fearing it might intrude on his country credibility. A turbo charged Hillbilly Bone followed, solidifying the devotion of the more vocal and enthused patrons among last night’s crowd of 13,500.
Shelton may play the cosmopolitan card on TV, but there was – quite purposely – nothing highbrow about the rowdier fare that dominated the performance, as underscored by the sing-a-long choruses to some of the show’s bigger hits, like The More I Drink (“The more I drink, the more I drink”) and the set-closing, Beatles-bashing Boys ‘Round Here (“Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit”).
It all fell in quite naturally within a performance that was part of Shelton’s current Ten Times Crazier Tour (named after a tune on the singer’s recent Based on a True Story… album that wasn’t performed). The party mood got a bit contrived, though, with the lugnut anthem Kiss My Country Ass. The song wasn’t particularly offensive, just offtrack in its whiney tone of country disenfranchisement. Perhaps someone can explain how the concert’s encore cover version of Footloose fit in with KMCA’s sentiments.
Far more effective and emotive was a two-song solo acoustic segment near the end of the performance. This included Over You, a song co-written by Shelton and wife Miranda Lambert about the death of the former’s brother. Recorded thus far only by Lambert, Over You was delivered as a simple, dignified remembrance. A folkish reading of Shelton’s first No. 1 single Austin rounded out the segment and sounded just as complete and involving as any of the singer’s current hits.
Florida singer Easton Corbin opened with a set fashioned very much after Shelton’s, right down to the between-song banter. At one point, in fact, Corbin told the crowd, ‘The more you drink, the more we drink.’ Not all the material was terribly inventive (the Top 10 hit Lovin’ You is Fun was about as distinctive as its title), but there was an assured, neo-traditionalist streak to Corbin’s vocals that nicely ignited Are You With Me and A Little More Country Than That.
Singer/actress Jana Kramer opened the evening with a largely antiseptic pop-savvy set that boasted a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover (Simple Man), a Taylor Swift-style hissy fit rant (I Hope It Rains) and a blast of Disney-style pop (the Top 5 hit Why Ya Wanna). No thank you to all of that.