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Culture / Entertainment

Luke Bryan Shamelessly Flirts, Accuses Crowd of Stripping Him Down — and Don’t Forget That Growl

This Swaggering Country Star is Much More Than a Great Butt at Houston Rodeo

BY // 03.01.19
photography F. Carter Smith

You know what they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That was the theme of Luke Bryan’s smash set at Thursday night’s NRG concert, where he was — as always — bound and determined to bring his own brand of animal magnetism to the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

The eighth time at the Rodeo just might be the charm for this charmer. This life of the party’s got his crowd-pleasing performance down pat. It’s true. The “sunrise, sunburn, sunset, repeat” singer’s show is the best kind of step-and-repeat.

Bryan’s rodeo show is like your favorite pair of old blue jeans — cut too tight, if it were up to him.

The necessary ingredients: shimmying hips, a baseball cap that just can’t make up its mind whether it wants to face backwards or forwards, forgotten lyrics, long, lingering camera pans of his butt, running down the stadium to high-five everyone possible and yes, of course, climbing up on the railing.

Come on, the man can “turn a party into a cornfield.” NRG Stadium is no real challenge to someone that resourceful. He brought a crowd of 67,115 out on a rainy, chilly Houston night.

To be fair, there were a few changes in Bryan’s show — a slight shift in the set list, and even more interaction with the crowd than last year, if that’s possible. Bryan thanked Houston for inviting him back, for helping make “What Makes You Country” the “top song in the country right now,” and so much more.

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Bryan keeps things interesting without ever truly shaking anything up, except for those hips. His show’s the guilty pleasure that you, and tens of thousands of others, are no longer afraid to admit to having.

The shameless superstar leapt into “Country Girl (Shake it For Me)” immediately, tapping his feet in his black baseball cap, too-tight jeans and a blue and white plaid button-down. It’s worth noting that when Bryan arrived on stage, his shirt only had one button undone.

By the end of the show, there were two undone. There was no singular moment when Bryan unfastened it himself. Who knows? Maybe Houston succeeded in undressing the flirt with their eyes, just like he accused.

Luke Bryan’s Power Moves

The superstar stalked the stage back and forth before planting his feet in a true power pose that looked like it came naturally, feet wide apart, all the better for bouncing and dancing.

It was kind of a bold move, starting off with that jam, no warm-up. But after the song was over, Bryan grinned and nodded as if to say yup, that’s how it’s done.

Watching someone so shameless kind of makes you shake loose your own inhibitions — judging by the women already up and shaking it for Bryan mere minutes into the concert.

It’s hard not to respect Bryan’s confidence, and it’s even harder not to like Bryan. This is the kind of guy who will adopt an 18-year-old rescue dog to give it a forever home and then turn around and raise his eyebrows and growl on stage with abandon.

It’s also highly possible that he wrote the second-to-last song, “Move” about himself, judging by his gyrations. “Move like you do, all sexy and smooth” and “damn, you turnin’ loose” sounds about right.

But that comes later. Low-key Luke came out to play for the second song, “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Everyday.” He asked “How we doin’, Houston?” Before confirming that people in Houston know how to hunt.

Bryan mimicked huntin’ and fishin’, reeling in an imaginary fish. Thankfully he did not pantomime lovin’.

“This is my favorite time of the year  — Rodeo in Houston. This is the greatest rodeo on planet earth, right here in Texas!” It makes sense. For Bryan, performing at the Houston Rodeo is like clock work.

Bryan didn’t stop moving for a minute, strutting from the center of the stage to each of the star’s five points, belting out his addictive lyrics to each side of the arena and even his own band on occasion. It’s clear he got his steps in, and then some.

There was an unexpected moment, though, when Bryan plucked a drumstick from the drummer and started banging the drum himself and occasionally tapping his guitar. It was completely gratuitous and incredibly satisfying to watch.

No one thought it was too soon when he moved into “I Don’t Want This Night to End” for song No. 3, even though the sentiment was obvious. He threw his arms up every time “You got your hands up” came around, and Houston eagerly followed suit.

Bryan never stopped moving, keeping his connection to the crowd going. He didn’t forget he was there for us more than we were there for him. When he go to “All My Friends Say,” he was quick to shout, “All my 70,000 friends here tonight!”

Luke Bryan’s Brooks & Dunn Love

Bryan admitted he was thrilled Brooks & Dunn had reunited on this Space City stage the night before. He proved it with a few chords of “Neon Moon” in a pitch-perfect imitation, except for the chuckles he let slip.

“I was in a Brooks & Dunn cover band, I promise you,” he laughed.

Then, it was a good time for good people. “Most People Are Good” brought out the heartfelt side of this heartbreaker and got the loudest reactions, screams, whoops, hoots and hollers, yet.

Sure, Bryan was the pioneer of a popular-yet-polarizing subgenre. He did pave the back roads of Bro Country, but he’s gone on to prove he’s got hidden depths. “Most People Are Good” saw to that, a sentimental song if there ever was one. But Bryan still injected a little levity.

“I believe Houston is excellent — is good!” he shouted out.

luke bryan on the edge of the stage (Photo by F. Carter Smith )
The superstar has a thing for strutting the star-shaped stage. (Photo by F. Carter Smith )

He played “Sunrise, Suburn, Sunset” for the first time in Houston, really giving it his all, throwing his back into his dramatic singing so much that it looked like he might actually throw his back out. And then all other manner of gestures — finger pointing, hand lifted up to the sky, fist against his chest. Subtlety is an art, but not for this musical artist.

There was another near-cover, when Bryan couldn’t stop himself from singing out “Houston means I’m one day closer to you.” But it made way for “What Makes You Country.” Most importantly, you could be a cowboy on the Texas plain.

He kicked it up a notch with “Kick the Dust Up,” really leaning into his self-appointed sex symbol status, widening his stance to swivel his hips while women literally shrieked. This lasted longer than it had any right to last.

Most people would have guessed he’d save those moves for “Strip it Down,” a tender song that’s obviously pretty steamy. But for the first time in the show, Bryan stood still, rooted firmly in place, eyes squinted shut as he gripped the mic and gave himself over to the sultry song.

In a way, it was a stripped-down version of Bryan. None of that frenetic energy or those frat boy vibes.

That is, until he peered with a slight smirk and asked “Y’all stripping me down out there tonight, Houston?”

luke bryan fishing (Photo by F. Carter Smith )
In case you weren’t sure what huntin’, fishin’ and lovin’ everyday looked like. (Photo by F. Carter Smith )

The song went on much longer than the radio edit, with Bryan lingering on syllable after syllable of the last line, singing less like an American Idol judge he is and more like an overeager American Idol contestant trying to show their range.

But by the impossibly catchy “Play it Again,” he was back to his good ol’ dancing self. “This is your song tonight, Houston!”

Luke Bryan smiled through the entire song, He’d been having fun up until now, but suddenly he was grinning, all too aware that time was almost up. He wanted to savor it. And he did, shooting a blinding smile directly at the camera.

Bryan reminded Houston that rain, is, in fact, a good thing, and he got down and dirty for “Move,” more rolled Rrrrrs than ever and some more hip action.

Then, hesitation. He stopped singing and smiled kind of sheepishly for a few seconds before collecting himself and hopping back into the lyrics, much like last year.

What followed next was a carbon copy of Bryan’s Houston Rodeo concert last year — he ran out onto the dirt and began working his way around the stadium, high-fiving fans as he went, all while singing “That’s My Kind of Night,” just like in 2018. He even got up on the railing in the same spot to serenade the crowd. And the camera followed his butt up there in some disconcerting — or delightful, depending on who you are — deja vu.

But hey, don’t mess with perfection. And definitely don’t mess with Texas.

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