Culture / Entertainment

Blake Shelton Fights Through the Flu, Overcomes a Shaky Start to Give Houston Rodeo Thrills: The Sexiest Man Alive Refuses to Wimp Out

BY // 03.02.18

Blake Shelton may not have been a rock star Thursday night at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, but he was definitely a good sport. The country star and The Voice judge didn’t exactly give the audience chills, but it’s probably because he had the chills himself.

As Shelton told the crowd between his fifth and sixth songs, he was “on the peak of getting the flu.”

The singer may not have been able to give 100 percent — his temperature might even have been 100 degrees — but he gave it all he could. The confession seemed to invigorate Shelton, giving his performance some oomph it sorely lacked at the start.

Gwen Stefani’s crooner companion took the stage a little after 9 pm. The new Houston Rodeo stage was lit a deep purple, and a few chords played out from the darkness. The spotlight fell on Shelton, and the singer started clapping.

“Houston! Here we go!” he shouted from the stage before launching into his hit, “Gonna.” Well, a soft launch. The tune was as clever as ever with its “Girl I ain’t just flirtin’/I’m certain,” but it wasn’t concert-worthy. Shelton’s music is always laid-back and mellow, comfortable as a pair of broken-in boots. But this time, you could tell he wasn’t really feeling it, so the audience wasn’t really either.

It wasn’t terrible, just tepid. Like finding out your football player crush is better off in the friend zone.

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At this point, no one in the crowd knew Shelton was potentially feverish. His voice was a little off, and the live songs fell flatter than the radio versions. But it was fun, if a little low-key. He came off too approachable, almost at odds with the intensity and drama of the stage.

Looking back, the next few songs were pretty good signs Shelton was overcompensating. He joked that he was happy Houston finally had him back to the Rodeo after three years and that he was worried we were mad at him.

“We are doing a country concert tonight!” he shouted. “Let’s do some damn drinking songs!”

That was before the second song of the night, mind you. It may have been night, but that felt like the equivalent of taking a shot of Fireball at 10 am.

“Neon Lights” was easy listening, accompanied by stripes of neon lights from the stage.

Before the next song, Shelton literally yelled it was time for “a sexy drinking song!” The stage turned red, presumably to match the theme of “Sangria.” He pulled through it, awkwardly. It was a valiant effort by People Magazine’s reigning Sexiest Man Alive, but it didn’t quite land.

Afterwards, Shelton turned back to hyping up the crowd. But this time it was more natural, and he went for humor.

He praised the “250,000 to 300,000?” country fans for coming out to NRG Stadium. The figure was closer to 68,000, but you got the sense he’d be equally happy with either. Shelton segued into the charming “I’ll Name the Dogs” from his latest album. He was looking a little perkier, even bouncing on his heels when he sang “Kiss me in the kitchen on your tippy toes.”

It was downright endearing, just like his flu confession after the song that followed.

The timing was key. People were whistling and cheering more than ever after the heartache-inducing “Every Time I Hear that Song.” Shelton wasn’t after sympathy and just wanted to explain, he insisted. After that, he just connected more.

He was sweatier, for sure — whether from illness or performing is up to debate — but he seemed more into it.

Blake Shelton’s Fighting Finish

When Shelton broke into “Ol’ Red” he gave it the rugged edge and gravelly voice a prison-break song deserves. During “Hillbilly Bone,” Shelton played around with his bandmates, urging on solo battles between his guitarist and fiddle player. The crowd ate it up.

“You realize this is the Houston Rodeo,” Shelton told his band. “It doesn’t get bigger than this.”

By song 10, Shelton was literally imploring Houstonians to lend their voices so he could save his. “In the name of God, sing along. Help me! Help me!” he pleaded.

Ask and ye shall receive. The crowd was happy to help, belting out the bittersweet lyrics to “Austin.” It didn’t end there. Like at Garth Brooks’ electric opening night concert, audience members held up their cellphones.

“That’s got to be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me at the Houston Rodeo. I love y’all!” Shelton shouted. Taking on “Boys ‘Round Here” was a bold choice, given the speed of the lyrics.

Shelton wrapped things up with “God Gave Me You,” complemented by a stained glass window pattern on the stage screens. Eyes cast down, Shelton visibly sniffed as he stepped onto the Ford pickup truck. But he swallowed, straightened his shoulders and waved goodbye as the truck left the stadium.

The crowd cheered. All in all, Shelton was on stage for about 50 minutes.

Blake Shelton had rallied, and Houston was happy to rally around him

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