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Blake Shelton At Madison Square Garden, Friday, August 1st, 2014, Reviewed

Blake Shelton At Madison Square Garden, August 2014

Blake Shelton At Madison Square Garden, August 2014

Now here is one of the best ideas for an Arena show ever, have a singer perform during set changes so there isn’t a deadly lull for twenty minutes or so. That’s exactly what Blake Shelton had veteran Nashville singer Neal McCoy do. McCoy is a funny, somewhat weird country guy, asking for an American flag (MSG, to its credit, didn’t have one), annoying the stage hands, telling lame jokes, and oddball covers, opening one mini-set with “New York State Of Mind” and mashing “Kaw-Liga” with “Another One Bites The Dust” before dusting off “Come Together”, along with his own hits “The Shake” and “Billy’s Got His Beer Goggles On”. Neal invites his stage manager and merchandise guy on stage so they can say they’ve performed at MSG and there is no down time tonight.

In a world where Madonna, at this very venue, opened the doors at 6pm and hit the  stage past 11pm,  leaving hours and hours with a packed house of fans and nothing to do, Shelton’s “10 Times Crazier Tour” opened the doors at 6pm, and from 7pm till 11pm entertained its audience. Shelton’s concept here, essentially fuck suspense, if you bought your ticket six months ago you’ve had enough suspense, we aren’t gonna mess with you, we aren’t gonna waste your money, thanks for your hundred bucks, here is four hours of good ol’ country music.  Such professionalism and  good faith, it makes a whole lotta difference.

Neal introduced Dan And Shay by referencing Rascal Flatts and Simon And Garfunkel, thereby doing the young duo no favors at all. what they are is exactly what you thought they were when you heard “19 You + Me” -high octane, a little too loud country pop rockers. Signed to, surprised, right?, Warner Brothers, they managed to fill the Arena with sound, which was their primary responsibility.

The siblings at the heart of the Band Perry, Kimberly and her brothers Neil and Reid, are cute as a button country rockers with five country hits to their name and a good attitude to boot. Ever since Kimberly straightened her hair she became a hottie (a newly married hottie) and the boys have all the exuberance of boys with exuberance (if you know what I mean). They rush around the stage, they use the catwalk to better effect than Blake would, and their cover of  Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls” is a showstopper. They ended the evening with their first hit “If I Should Die” and while I have never been a fan, it taught me one thing: don’t judge a country group by their name and a haircut.

And don’t judge them by their on stage bullshit either. Shelton -the “The Voice” coach married to Miranda Lambert, has a handful or maybe two handfuls of great songs, and a “kiss my country ass” badass tude, and he is a square jawed Desperate Dan of a character, hard drinkin’, hard lovin’ good ol’ countrypolitan guy. But his spiel beggars the imagination, so canned, so fake, bullshit like his record label telling him not to talk between songs because it is New York City, is irritating and relentless. Of course some of what he says is canned, it has to be, but this was too much. Pretending he “screwed the pootch” as an excuse to put on his ten gallon hat (and extensions!), is just one example, it goes on and on and on.

Especially, you can’t claim an audience is special with a canned speech about how an audience is special. If everybody is special, how are you special?

His two most important songs performed solo were also canned but they were very moving. Especially a song he wrote with Miranda for his brother. They decided Miranda should record the track  (because Blake couldn’t get through it without breaking down). Blake’s brother Richie died in a car crash at the age of 24, the song is devastating:”Because you went away, how dare you? I miss you” before the stark ” It really sinks in, you know, when I see it in stone.”  Blake was 14 years old when his brother died.

The rest of the show, on all sides, even with the between song patter, was first rate.  Blake can write a song and here they accumulate and fast between country sass and kissing up to your main squeeze, Blake assumes most of the guys in the audience are there because their gals made em, but he appears to crossover more than he realizes. “All About Tonight” and “The More I Drink”, the first two songs, are boy anthems, “Hillbilly Bone” with the classic (“I’ve waited a long time to sing this here”) “I got a friend in New York City, never heard of Conway Twitty…”, is another track not for the female demo, and the last song before the encore, “Boys ‘Round Here” belongs to the world right now.

The playing is very precise, very lively, very on the money. Everybody in the band are Nashville Cats (you know: been playin’ since they’re babies, get work before they’re two, to quote John Sebastian).  The same was true of the Keith Urban show I saw in July: these guys are amazing players and the difference between Urban and Blake is simple, and it is not Urban’s Aussie smirk versus Blake’s US tough guy swagger, the difference is Blake is a better songwriter. The song’s are just terrific. His Jimmy Buffet rip “Some Beach” is terrific, his story song “Austin” is terrific, his duet with “The Voice” Gwen Sebastian, who he coached in Season Two “My Eyes” is terrific.  There may be something fake about Blake but there is nothing fake about his hard man vocals, tough guy softy veneer or absolutely his songs.

So $100 for four hours of better than average modern country played by topnotch Nashville Cats and singers who know better than to phone in anything. Ten times crazier? Maybe, OK, why not?

Grade: B+

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