By Brian Ives
“We’ve got some catching up to do!” Blake Shelton told the New York crowd at Barclays Center Friday night (October 7), after noting that “To my knowledge, this is the first time I’ve ever played in Brooklyn.”
Over the two hour concert, Shelton made up for lost time, both with his enviable catalog of country hits, and also with his charming personality that has turned on millions to his music (and very likely, to country music in general) via his role as a coach on The Voice.
He opened the show with “Neon Light” at about 8:30 and didn’t let up for about two hours, hollering, “Hey, Brooklyn, it’s Friday night! Start acting like it!” Of course, he was joking: the crowd were amped up for one of country’s biggest stars to play his first show in the borough. He was a bit over-humble, though: “I didn’t know how many people from New York City even heard of me!” (Yes, they still watch TV in NYC, Blake, and nearly everyone has seen The Voice!)
He bantered with the crowd a bit, thanking everyone for coming out, especially as driving in Brooklyn, as he discovered, “sucks.” “I know why you’re here,” he said to a “big Brooklyn guy” in the audience. “You’re here because she’s here,” referring to his female companion.
While he seemed to enjoy being in Brooklyn, he soon launched into his anthem “Kiss My Country A–,” reminding everyone of who he is and where he’s from. And the lyric “I ain’t scared to grab my gun/And fight for my homeland/If you don’t love the American flag/You can kiss my country a–!” said more about the current post-Colin Kaepernick controversy than any speech could have (he saluted a digital flag that appeared on the video screens during that lyric).
From there, he slowed things down a bit with one of his great love songs, “Mine Would Be You,” which surely means something different to him today than when he recorded it for his 2013 album, Based on a True Story. (On a semi-related note, it was a sweet touch that No Doubt’s “Hey Baby” was included on the pre-show mix tape that played over the arena’s P.A.)
The back-to-back songs — “Kiss My Country A–” and “Mine Would Be You” — demonstrated that Shelton is equally strong with two of his favorite topics: love/relationships and pride in being country. Which is not to say that they are his only lyrical topics: he also played “Some Beach” and did a fearsome version of George Jones’ “Ol’ Red” (originally from his 2001 self-titled debut, which was definitely one of the highlights of the show).
Alas, Shelton always returns to love, and so he followed that with “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” which he introduced by saying that the guys in the audience looked like they needed help: “Grab your girl and look her in the eyes and sing her the words to this song. Guys, I’m trying to help you out here!”
Soon, he romanced the crowd a bit. “I hate to be too forward,” he said. “I hate to be premature — nobody likes that! — but I think we’re ready for the next step. Let’s do a duet: me and Brooklyn!” And, indeed the Brooklyn crowd filled in for Ashley Monroe on “Lonely Tonight.”
Afterwards, noting his role on The Voice, he gave his assessment of Brooklyn’s collective singing voice. “You have really good pitch, you sing in tune! You’re right on the beat. The bad thing is… what is that sound you’re making when you’re singing? Ya’ll sound like a bunch of hillbillies!” The crowd roared their approval, and he then launched into “Hillbilly Bone.”
Next was “She’s Got a Way With Words” and “Sure Be Cool if You Did,” and soon after, he set up at the front of the stage, troubadour style, sitting on a stool with just an acoustic guitar and a drink. “This is the most important things I do,” he said, referring to his ability to perform solo. And he offered some advice to the audience: “If you need a hobby, go to a pawn shop and get a guitar. It doesn’t have to be a nice expensive one. Learn five chords, it’ll change your life.” It was pretty clear that the guy still gets a lot out of singing and playing his songs, beyond the financial rewards. Fittingly, he wrapped up the acoustic set with “Austin,” his first single ever, off of his self-titled debut (the song went to #1 on the country charts).
He hit the homestretch with his cover of Michael Buble’s “Home,” followed by “Honey Bee” and then “Boys Round Here,” which saw him joined by Raelynn, his opening act and one time Voice protege (she sang on the studio version as well).
The encore featured his cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” from 2011 (some fans on twitter reminded me that it was from the remake of the ’80s classic teen flick), and then “God Gave Me You,” from Red River Blue, which doubled as an ode to his fans.
Shelton returns for his second of two nights tonight (October 8). There’s no word yet as to when he’ll return to New York City after that, but at least now he knows he’s more than welcome (and the hallways had multiple advertisements for upcoming country shows at the venue: Eric Church and Keith Urban/Brett Eldridge/Maren Morris; clearly there’s a lot of love for the genre in Brooklyn).
Raelynn’s spirited opening set showed a star in the making: despite the fact that her debut full-length album, Wildhorse, won’t be out until December, she pulled a big crowd — mostly young and female. Her voice was flawless, and when she performed “Love Triangle,” a song based on her parents’ divorce, it stopped everyone in their tracks. She may not be an opening act for too much longer.
(All photos by Maria Ives for Radio.com)