Last Night: Kenny Chesney & Tim McGraw at Reliant Stadium
Outside the rodeo, Saturday night's "Brothers of the Sun" date with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw will no doubt go down as the biggest single concert (not festival) to take place in Houston this year. That means two balding, behatted guys in their forties will have sold more tickets than Coldplay, Gotye, Drake, LMFAO, Van Halen, Roger Waters, Aerosmith, Kiss and Mötley Crüe, and Radiohead.
Even Bieber had to settle for Toyota Center...for now.
Saturday night's show, long on alpha-male flexing and not entirely lacking either introspection or actual country music, traded spectacle for scale. With hooks and choruses this size, no explosions or fancy video-screen wizardry was necessary.
Instead, Chesney rode one of those NFL-style overhead cameras from the satellite stage in the middle of the stadium to the main platform, and McGraw signed a few autographs (a hat, a cardboard fan) between verses. Ka-ching.
Based on both men's physical condition, they should have called this the "Brothers of the Gym" tour. McGraw, clad in an impossibly tight white T-shirt/jeans ensemble, opened with several songs as muscular as his physique: Driving electro-hard rock ("Felt Good On My Lips"); Technicolor multi-part harmonies ("For a Little While"); grinning, good-humored '90s country a.k.a. microwaved Southern rock ("Down on the Farm"); bluesy peacock chest-puffing ("Real Good Man").
Things didn't settle down, a little bit, until his 1997 hit "Everywhere," a sweet, steel-heavy ballad and not the last time McGraw would either directly or indirectly invoke George Strait. Throughout his 90-plus-minute set, he radiated a feeling of tightly controlled emotions, squeezing himself into a human fist like a cobra about to strike.
The acting skills McGraw learned for the 2004 film Friday Night Lights, which he mentioned filming in the Astrodome next door, were very much intact. Although his seven-piece band certainly did in clenched-teeth rockers "How Bad Do You Want It" and "All I Want Is a Life," McGraw never quite cut loose, or broke character perhaps, but said a lot with a few simple arm movements.
Extending his arms or a quick chest-thump were enough punctuation for the messages in his songs, predominantly a string of affirmations ("Better Than I Used To Be," "Unbroken") or nostalgic reflections.
Not coincidentally, these were the closest things his set came to old-school country music. The mostly acoustic shuffle "Just to See You Smile" made a nice smaller moment among all the Big Music, while "Back When," an amusing notion about the way words can change, had some in the crowd literally two-stepping in the aisles.
For much of the show, McGraw had a look in his eye like he was contemplating the faraway horizon. It was a proper vantage for him to gaze upon some of the more cinematic items in his catalog, songs that also usually prompted the biggest singalongs.
He pondered his place within the Southern pantheon and gave an LSU shout-out in the R&B-tinted "Southern Voice," and stayed out of shamelessly tearjerking territory in the genuinely moving "Live Like You Were Dying."
Then McGraw left himself plenty of room to stomp and swagger all over the Stonesy "I Like It, I Love It" and almost primal "Truck Yeah" in his encore, closing out his portion of the evening with a crushing Led Zep riff and a candidate for hashtag of the year.