Easton Corbin at Reliant Stadium, 3/21/2014
Perhaps in the future the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo can line up one shameless throwback entertainer per season, not some old veteran whose days of heavy airplay are long behind him or her, but a commercially viable younger artist who demonstrates that country music is not completely dominated by wannabe outlaws or well-meaning buffoons. They do still exist, and some of them are even quite talented.
Maybe it can even sign up an appropriate company like Wrangler or Justin Boots to be a presenting sponsor; since "Throwback Thursday" is such a thing these days, why not do it then? The rodeo might as well, because that's what it got Friday when Easton Corbin made his debut to a Friday-night crowd that was smaller than it should have been at 58,784 announced, but young and female enough that hopefully the 31-year-old Floridian has wedged open the door for many appearances to come.
The first sound that came from the revolving stage Friday was a fiddle, followed closely by the moan of a steel guitar. These days that combination is rare enough at the rodeo, but they were joined by the reverb-heavy Bakersfield twang of a vintage Telecaster, adding yet another dimension to the time warp. Corbin, doggedly strumming a full-sized acoustic guitar, smiled plenty while expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to play the rodeo; but if he was overwhelmed by the moment, he did a good job of playing it cool.
Oddly enough, he was one of the few band members not wearing a cowboy hat -- three of whom were from Texas -- on a night when doing so would have made perfect sense. Early on, Corbin did not seem like he had a crossover-minded bone in his body. The opening trio of uptempo shuffles -- "The Way Love Looks," "Lovin' You Is Fun," "All About Tonight" -- all could have easily come from the well-played jukeboxes at Houston's late Blanco's or Austin's venerable Broken Spoke, places where the dance floors have been (or were) polished to a high gloss by thousands upon thousands of boots across decades of heavy traffic.
I kept waiting for the moment when Corbin would zoom off onto the dirt the to slap hands and take a few selfies with the fans just across the railing, but it never came. (The audacity.) Meanwhile, the songs themselves swam in the kind of simple but sly country humor that wears as comfortably as an old shirt, in lines like "I like the way love looks, the way it looks on you" and this gem of a chorus from "Don't Ask Me About a Woman":
Don't ask me 'bout a woman
That's some complicated stuff
They ain't made to figure out
They're just made to love
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