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Concert review: Blake Shelton a comfortable charmer in Atlanta

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You’ve got to love a country star whose taking-the-stage music is Young MC’s ‘80s hit, “Bust a Move.”

But that’s the kind of cheeky guy Blake Shelton has always been, and no amount of time spent in Los Angeles coaching “The Voice” will strip the Oklahoma native of his good ol’ boy spirit.

For nearly two hours on Thursday at Aaron’s Amphitheatre at Lakewood, Shelton proved himself an immensely likable talent perfectly coupled with the affable hoist–a-whiskey songs that are his specialty.

After opening the show with the obvious foot-stomper, “All About Tonight,” Shelton, his jeans and brown shirt almost immediately drenched in sweat, proceeded to chat with the substantial-sized audience, as he would do following nearly every song.

“I drug my big a** out here for two reasons tonight: To drink, and to sing country music,” he bellowed, inciting the requisite “whoo-hoos” and “yee-haws” from the frisky crowd.

Most of Shelton’s repertoire centers on his favorite topics. “The More I Drink” and “Drink on It” fit his stage patter about his habit of drinking when he’s nervous and drinking when he’s relaxed (Shelton convincingly played shocked at the size of the crowd – “Holy crap! All the people out there!” – though this “Ten Times Crazier” tour has been doing solid business since its launch in mid-July). Meanwhile, early 2000s hits “Some Beach” and “Playboys of the Southwestern World” covered the other country (or, for that matter, any genre) cliché – checking out women.

For the latter, Shelton donned a cowboy hat to help him get in the mood to play his older hits – we won’t ruin the surprise of what was attached to the hat – and displayed a good-natured attitude about his past (he also reminisced about his early days playing clubs in Kennesaw at Wild Bill’s in Duluth).

But even though Shelton is clearly grounded in his world of hunting, tattoos and freewheeling conversation, it would be impossible if his part-time-Hollywood lifestyle didn’t change him in some way.

It appears, though, that what Shelton has learned from his glitzy friends is how to be a better performer.

His voice is strong enough – a supple instrument that contains more range than most of his CMA-winning peers – but what makes Shelton such a delight is his interaction with the crowd and tremendous sense of humor.

He’s a gifted storyteller as well, evidenced in his retelling of the first time he met his “Voice” comrades. Jokes about Adam Levine being “good-looking and sexy” and Christina Aguilera’s ample assets were a hoot, but Shelton was on fire as he recounted the arrival of “my man!” Cee Lo Green, who showed up at the end of the team’s first meeting in a yellow tracksuit and shades.

That, of course, prompted a natural segue into the clean version of Green’s “Forget You” (Shelton and his six-piece band handled the soul sound commendably), which Shelton deftly spun into a story about himself and led to “Hillbilly Bone.”

Even when he turned softer for the self-flagellating ballad,

“She Wouldn’t Be Gone” or the new single, “Mine Would Be You,” Shelton delivered his songs like a rock star.

But a highlight of the show came when Shelton scooted down the catwalk to sit with a couple of acoustic guitars and play what he called the two most important songs in his life.

“Over You,” written about his brother who was killed in a car accident, was a No. 1 hit for Shelton’s wife, Miranda Lambert (he gave a happy fist-pump when mentioning her name). Now, he said, he feels ready to perform the song himself, and a respectful hush wafted over the crowd as he sang. 

The other special song, “Austin,” was Shelton’s first single – and first No. 1 hit – and his voice rang clearly though the night’s humid air.

Though Shelton earned yet another No. 1 hit in 2008 with a cover of Michael Buble’s “Home,” the song still felt like an awkward fit during Thursday’s show. It may be a relatable sentiment, but even when dusted with pedal steel guitar, the glossy ballad isn’t Shelton’s forte.

 And if not anything else, he’s a guy who is usually comfortable in his own skin.

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