Last Night: Gary Allan at Reliant Stadium
Gary Allan is a complicated man. If no one understands him but his woman, it doesn't matter because she's already 30,000 feet above him, on an airplane bound somewhere far away from his ass.
That's the premise of "Watching Airplanes," the 2007 hit that opened Allan's RodeoHouston set at Reliant Stadium. He wants to chase after her, but "that fence is too high and so am I."
The 45-year-old Allan traffics in a tough but traditional brand of country that doesn't shy away from adult situations, whether the steamy romance of "Nothing On But the Radio" or the territorial showdown of "Man to Man," which contains the memorable line "If not for me, she'd be yours today."
Nice. There was more good stuff, too, like the steel-soaked "It Would Be You," a song set entirely in the subjunctive tense and whose title completes the lyric "if you talk about heartache." "Bend" acknowledges that part of being an adult is learning you don't know every damn thing. "Right Where I Need to Be" is about learning to appreciate people who really matter -- a woman who does Allan a damn sight better than the one in "Bones," one of the nastier revenge ballads to come down the pike in a while.
Not just because of his age, Allan belongs to an older class of country musicians, men who did not rely on cowboy schtick or crossover pandering to become successful, only simple songs with a powerful message that lingered long after they were over.
I'm thinking of John Anderson, John Conlee, Don Williams, Bobby Bare Sr. and maybe a few others dating back to Allan's fellow Californian Merle Haggard. Especially on the set's few faster songs, he flashed some of Garth Brooks's steely energy but none of the flamboyance.
For proof, I scanned the crowd during his recent No. 1, "Every Storm Runs Out of Rain," perhaps the biggest hit of Allan's nearly 20-year career. Every woman I saw -- the crowd was not one of the rodeo's biggest, but it was substantial -- was singing the lyrics like she had rehearsed them for hours. It was a pretty powerful moment.