Country music star Gary Allan has quietly built a following since signing his first recording contract some 15 years ago. One look outside the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Friday night and it became clear that the singer is reaching super star status. Traffic lined up outside the casino let everyone know that something special awaited them once they got inside. Once the house lights went down inside The Joint, the sold-out crowd found out exactly what all the fuss was about.
A large white curtain reached from the stage all the way up to the ceiling as excitement built in the crowd and the speaker system pumped out “I Fought the Law.” Following the abrupt stopping of the music, one loud guitar solo rang out as a dark silhouette of a lone guitar player appeared behind the curtain. A second chord sounded revealing another guitar player on the opposite side of the stage. Then the curtain dropped to reveal a seven-piece band with Allan descending down a staircase from the back of the stage.
The raspy-voiced Allen and his band then jumped right into “Right Where I Need to Be” and the show was under way. Nearly two hours and over 20 songs later, the night would end with a standing ovation. Allan and crew played several hits throughout the night, reminding fans that he has built an impressive catalog throughout his career. It took him a little while to get warmed up, but once he did, Allan was on fire. Constantly working the stage, he rarely took any time off as he powered on through song after song.
“A Feelin’ Like That” kept things moving along as the crowd heavily populated by females danced and sang along. He continued on without breaking between songs, following up with the romantic “Nothing on but the Radio,” and the just as popular “Man to Man.” He quickly took enough time to greet the crowd, simply saying “Hello Tulsa!” then he was off again.
Although some of the songs seemed to be moving along at a pace just a bit quicker than the recorded versions, it made up for it in the long run with him slashing through 23 songs total. The honky-tonky “She’s So California” paid homage to the Bakersfield sound that Allan has often been connected to. Showing his flexibility, Allan continued with the bluesy “Smoke Rings in the Dark,” the heart-ache ridden tale “It Would Be You,” and the redeeming “Learning How to Bend.”
Allan hit his peak on “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful,” simply nailing one of his most touching songs. There surely wasn’t a misty eye in the building as he sat at the corner of the stage and let the audience sing the lines “life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.” He continued with “Tough All Over,” “No Regrets,” “It’s Been a Long Year,” and “Bourbon Borderline,” before the set really amped up a notch.
“Songs About Rain,” “Get Off On The Pain,” “Her Man,” “Kiss Me When I’m Down,” and “Best I Ever Had,” got the crowd singing along with every word. One of the most interesting and exciting moments of the night came next when Allan dove into “Man of Me.” The song is positively up beat, and easily considered a very lively tune for country music. Allan and crew took it up a few steps when mid-song they went from boot-stomping rhythm to full-fledged, hardcore metal and the crowd ate it up.
It appeared that the night had come to an end after “Watching Airplanes,” but the crowd made it clear that they weren’t ready to leave. Chants of “Gary, Gary, Gary!” soon started and after a few minutes the band returned to the stage for a special encore.
Standing at center stage and flanked by a guitar player on each side, Allen then tore off into a great cover of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown.” “I love Tom Petty,” Allan said as the audience cheered. With the steel guitar moved to the front of the stage, and a mysterious clear bottle with a black label began to be passed around from band member to band member, Allan finished with “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey.” The song featured an entertaining steel guitar part played with the bottle of Jack Daniels before Gary’s pet dog Lucy came running out onto the stage to join the band.
Then, just as soon as it seemed it had started, the show was over. “Thank you Tulsa,” said Allan. “I hope to come back here again soon,” he added. The standing ovation that followed made it clear to Allan that he will be welcomed any time he decides to return.
Gary Allan, in my mind, is one of the most under-rated country singers of our time. If you have not heard his stuff, you really should check it out. And if you have a chance to see him live, you owe it to yourself to see him. Props to The Joint for bringing yet another great musical talent to Tulsa!
Photo credit: Angela Huckaby