I have to be honest, readers: I was not expecting wall-to-wall mid-tempo country-rock bangers at the Blake Shelton concert on Thursday. He wasn't even onto the encore before I marked down "How does Blake Shelton have this many hits?!" I just drove home from the Moda Center and here I am, writing this review, going through his deep cuts. There are always artists that pass us by, but Shelton is hard to miss: a Nashville hit-maker for going on 20 years, a coach on "American Idol" killer "The Voice" since 2011, and lately, a gossip regular thanks to a public split with fellow country star Miranda Lambert and a kindled romance with coincidentally single TV colleague/once and forever punk princess Gwen Stefani. (Shelton's pre-set playlist included No Doubt's "Hey Baby" next to the country picks.)
It's a lot to take in, or live through. So it's good that Shelton has plenty of songs about drinking. His beer-raising arm was never far from a beverage throughout the night, when he wasn't playing guitar or grasping the hands of fans standing along the catwalk built into the crowd. He did "Drink On It," "Sangria," and the light-hearted but definitely about severe alcoholism anthem "The More I Drink," that one landing in a three-song acoustic break that captured him alone at his guitar in the middle of an adoring room, holding the crowd of thousands happily captive with six strings, a voice and a story. Take it from someone who's seen 40 or 50 of the world's most popular musicians give it a try on that stage: not many musicians can do what Blake Shelton did at the Moda Center on Thursday night.
He was pleased to play the old stuff--and self-deprecating about getting the crowd to help out on the sing-alongs, warning that if he got a bad review (no chance of that, my dude) that it'd be on us. But outside of the booze and occasional swing at post-Skynyrd Southern pride, Shelton has a lot of big chorus'd hits about feelings that could be torn from a very twangy Lisa Loeb songbook: at some point, somebody in Nashville must have realized that late '90s pop-rock radio jams such as Shawn Mullins' "Lullaby" and Matchbox Twenty's "3 AM" were the pinnacle of modern songwriting, stripped them of any lingering alternative irony, and seeded the whole city with them, giving us albums like Taylor Swift's "Fearless" and Shelton's new "If I'm Honest."
His latest is torn between sober heartache and tipsy new possibilities: he played the laugh-until-you-cry "She's Got a Way with Words," and the nostalgic, Swiftian "Every Time I Hear That Song," but he also delivered "A Guy With a Girl," a humblebrag about how everyone agrees Stefani is really pretty, and one he accompanied with a long bit of audience banter about a dressed-up guy in the front row being outshone by his date. Shelton probably does these routines every night, but on Thursday the tour was only three dates in, and rehearsed or not, the man could probably convince a turtle to hand over its shell. "It's a Thursday night!" he kept saying as the set went long, his surprise at the full house earnest and deep. It felt like a Saturday, and as couples in boots and denim made out and held up their flashing phones to capture his charisma, Shelton felt like a singer who's going to be doing these songs for a very long time.
-- David Greenwald
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