Eli Young Band, Easton Corbin, etc. at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, 7/6/2013
Young was up and down the length of the stage before the group had run through the first half of their opening song, "Always the Love Songs," off 2008 album Jet Black and Jealous. EYB tends to open with this song, and I suppose it makes sense -- it must mean quite a bit to them, seeing as how it was their first Top 20 hit -- plus it's got this sense of being about where the band grew from; the song narrates a time past where a group of friends sang around the bonfire, and how it's always the love songs that they remember.
EYB is kind of that band singalong band; they grew from a group of college friends playing local Denton haunts to headlining a huge pavilion in the nation's fourth largest city, and it must be quite a thought to look back at those small-town memories.
And while onstage, Mike Eli makes it quite clear he still holds close those small town roots. He's the typical country front man, with nods to Tomball and country-boy anecdotes between songs, and it's pretty endearing -- especially when you factor in the fact that his hometown is just a stone's throw from Houston. Every story about the roots of their songs received a roar of approval, especially from the ladies in the crowd.
It was a standout little tale that led the way for the rest of the night; Eli spoke about how they're a band that tends to write "love-hate songs," the kind of song that is about being in love and getting pissed about being screwed over. It was actually kind of funny; they really are that kind of band, and it was refreshing to see them own up to it. It's what has brought them from those college bars to giant venues, and it's what the next song they launched into, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," was all about.
As they played out the rest of their set -- a rushed version of a headliner spot, thanks to those long breaks between performances -- it was obvious they were quite happy to be that love-hate song band. It's written across the faces of the band members that the songs mean quite a bit to them; even when they performed a cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers song, "Learning to Fly," they did so with these huge grins and a ton of energy, so it hardly felt much like a cover. They closed out their set with the songs the audience would expect; it certainly wouldn't be an Eli Young concert without hearing "Crazy Girl" and "Drunk Last Night," two of their bigger radio hits.
The night, overall, was an abundance of that new-school, alt-country music; nothing more, nothing less. It's certainly what one would have expected from the lineup, and most of the acts were solid, even if they weren't quite my speed. I was surprised at the amount of covers I'd seen from the bands throughout the night -- there were at least six in the time that I was there, but perhaps that's what those die-hard country fans were looking for. A little bit of country, a little bit of rock and roll, still done up with some boots and a cowboy hat for good measure.
Personal Bias: I've thus far been an '80s and '90s country fan through and through, and I've been stubborn in my acceptance of the current state of country music, but I think I'm coming around quite nicely at this point. Immersion therapy seems to be working.
The Crowd: Young(ish), lots of tattoos (that was surprising), surfer cowboys, and country girls in short-shorts.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I'm a little more country tonight" -- I suppose that was true, if country meant a Dos Equis and a tank top.
Random Notebook Dump: Why is everyone so manscaped?!