BROOKLYN, New York — These days, between moonlighting as a TV personality and having his love life splattered all over the media, Blake Shelton is as famous for extra-musical reasons as he is for his songs.
But his first-ever performance in Brooklyn, at the Barclays Center on Friday (Oct. 7), underlined the fact that the road dog is as committed to putting his tunes across to his fans as ever.
Shelton’s tour to support his 10th album, If I’m Honest, brought him to Brooklyn for a two-night stand at the four-year-old arena. But it hardly seemed like he was there just to flog his new release. Most of the set was occupied by older songs, and the tracks that he did perform from the new record didn’t pop up until well into the evening.
After an opening set by RaeLynn, Shelton kicked things off with “Neon Light,” the gold single from his previous album, Bringing Back the Sunshine. The tune’s blend of hip-hop beats and bluesy banjo licks served as a reminder of how successfully Shelton’s been able to ride the shifting winds of country trends over the years. The good-time country-rocking party song “All About Tonight” underscored his knack for getting good ‘n’ greasy when he wants to.
Somehow he managed to make the gently funky, easy-rolling groove of his Top 5 single “Doin’ What She Likes” sound perfectly natural leading into the raw, rocking stomper “Kiss My Country Ass,” his Hank Jr.-referencing ode to all things downhome. And from there he went straight into the low-key, platinum-plated love ballad “Mine Would Be You” to boot.
Shelton’s self-effacing sense of humor was in full effect as he introduced some of his older songs by saying he wanted to play “some of that old crap that I had out way back in the day” to catch everyone up. That “old crap” ended up including the dark, minor-key story song “Ol’ Red” a gold 2002 single about a convict’s quirky escape plan” and 2004’s No. 1 “Some Beach,” with its breezy, Jimmy Buffett-ish beach bum vibe.
After a string of subdued romantic tunes including “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking,” “Sangria” and the If I’m Honest No. 2 song “Came Here to Forget,” Shelton went into huckster mode, inciting a sing-along by good-naturedly observing, “These songs suck unless y’all do your part.” The crowd duly obliged him by joining in on the bouncy, pop-inflected hit “Gonna” from Bringing Back the Sunshine.
After delivering the sultry, smoldering come-on of “My Eyes,” Shelton told the audience, “I think we’re ready for the next step in our relationship. Let’s sing a duet … me and Brooklyn” by way of leading into another Bringing Back the Sunshine hit, “Lonely Tonight.”
Afterwards, he had some fun with the fans, wryly declaring, “I’m a coach on The Voice, I have to tell you what I think about your singing. …Y’all sound like a bunch of damn hillbillies.” This, of course, turned out to be the perfect intro to the twang-heavy country rocker “Hillbilly Bone.” After delivering his latest single, “She’s Got a Way With Words,” and his 2013 No. 1 smash “Sure Be Cool If You Did,” Shelton sat himself on a stool with his guitar and the band took a break to allow him a few moments on his own.
Remembering how all he had was his own acoustic guitar when he started playing in Nashville back in 1994, he said, “To me, this is the most important thing that I do,” introducing 2004’s “Nobody but Me” as “one of those songs I was walkin’ around Nashville singing for years until I got a break.” Following “She Wouldn’t Be Gone,” Shelton set into a solo version of his first-ever single, 2001’s “Austin,” reminding the audience, “I’ve been doing this crap a long-ass time.”
The band rejoined their leader onstage for Shelton’s 2012 feel-good platinum single “Drink on It.” A couple of tunes later, he had the whole arena bouncing to his 2013 hip-hop-meets-country smash “Boys ‘Round Here,” ending the set on a high note.
Coming back for an encore, Shelton amped up the exciting even more with the most rocking song of the night, his version of the 1984 Kenny Loggins hit “Footloose.” Shifting gears like a man who’d never seen an automatic transmission in his life, he ended the evening with another of his trademark love ballads: the 2011 hit “God Gave Me You.”
At this point in Shelton’s career, it’s admittedly tough tell how much of his audience is drawn to his concerts by his celebrity status and onscreen charisma as opposed to merely his music. But if anyone in attendance at his Brooklyn debut went in there for the former reason, it’s a pretty safe bet they were no longer in that category by the time they walked out.