Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen Hold My Beer and Watch This Tour House of Blues, Dallas Wednesday, July 9, 2014
An unusually functional prop set the stage, both literally and figuratively, for last night's Randy Rogers' and Wade Bowen's show at House of Blues in Dallas. About ten feet behind where Rogers and Bowen stood for well over two hours on this sold-out stop of their "Hold My Beer and Watch This" tour, flanked by two pillowy, well-worn living room recliners, there stood a television with an ancient VCR on top of it (and with a hardcover Willie Nelson biography resting on top of that). The TV played a VHS tape of the 1992 campy country music classic, Pure Country starring George Strait.
Once the two buddies - who also happen to be two of the best modern country songwriters from Texas in recent years -- took their spots near the stage's lip, each turned around and smiled at the sight of a ponytailed George Strait. Bowen demurely dismissed it and began tuning his guitar while Rogers stood amazed, gleefully announcing "Pure Country, everybody! George Strait! Pure Country!"
The contrasting reactions of the artists foreshadowed the different approach each would take throughout the night. To be certain, Rogers and Bowen offered up pared-down versions of songs that still packed serious wallops, even if they were delivered in differing fashion from the fellow standing next to him.
It's almost too easy to say that, for last night at least, Rogers and Bowen were the yin to one another's yang, or a country music odd couple. But the results were a joy to watch, giving this show the freewheeling distinction each artist shoots for when they tackle this now-annual tour every summer. If this show was a big campfire circle, Rogers held court over the rowdy, substance-assisted side while Bowen snuggled in with the campers that wanted to dig vicariously into his soul and intently soak in every lyric before heading off to a dreamy slumber.
Even in the somewhat sterile confines of the House of Blues, the feeling that the night was a true shared experience between artist and fan was palpable. Rogers and Bowen acted much like pastors at a large church, inviting the fans to sing along, not merely sit and listen. And they did -- with conviction.
Before songs such as the show-opening "God Bless This Town," "All Because of a Woman" and the bro-country indicting "Songs About Trucks," Bowen would almost sheepishly provide a thought or two about the given tune's origin. Each time he played, he did so with a quiet reverence for the tune encouraging the crowd to sing with its collective eyes closed. When he sang "My windshield is cracked, just like my heart," during "One Step Closer" from 2006, wistful sways seemed more appropriate than drunken cheers.
It's not that the Waco native and Texas Tech alum didn't have jokes up his sleeve, though. He just wasn't as gregarious as Rogers. Bowen excels at mining the nagging depths of heartbreak and hindsight. Tunes such as "You Had Me at My Best" and "Why Makes Perfect Sense," which was co-written with Rogers, who chimed in for some rustic harmonies during the song, showcased Bowen as a songsmith rather than a rabble-rousing honky-tonker.
The fact that Bowen effectively created such an intimate environment was made even more impressive by the fact that he and Rogers alternated between turns. Rogers, taking a vastly different but no less entertaining approach, repeatedly encouraged the audience to dance and sing along and had a bit of fun with Bowen -- often right as Bowen was prepping for his turn at the mic.
But Rogers can also write a sad song with the best of them. Even when numbers such as "If I Had Another Heart" and "Speak of the Devil," both from last year's fantastic Trouble LP, were given a loose treatment, they retained their power. It was primarily between his songs when Rogers' oft-foul mouthed frivolity (harmless intoxication?) gave the show an injection of humor which lent the night the feel of kicking back around a dwindling campfire with the 1,500 or so friends in attendance.
Far more chatty than Bowen, Rogers led the fans seated in the venue's balcony through a really random sing-along of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and inserted non-sequiturs such as "My parents live in Cleburne," into songs that didn't seem to have much to do with either his parents or with his old hometown. He introduced "Never Got Around to That," an otherwise somber tale of letting "the one" get away by jokingly dedicating it to the couples in the audience that had been dating for years without an engagement ring to show for it.
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Before "Too Late for Goodbye" from 2010's Burning the Day record, the bearded Rogers declared that it was his "meanest song." Rogers stuck primarily to newer material as "Fuzzy" was given a chant-along treatment and "Buy Myself a Chance," the song he opened his performance with, was every bit as danceable stripped-down as it is when it's performed with Rogers fantastic full-band.
The covers that both artists chose were also perfect for the occasion. The pair paid tribute to the star of Pure Country when Rogers sang "The Chair," with Bowen then busting out "Amarillo By Morning." Those two classics were sandwiched by Rogers' giving Ryan Adams' "Come Pick Me Up" a faithful, heart-tugging interpretation (with harmonica assistance from Bowen's friend Kyle Weiters) while Bowen would later lend the highest register he could muster to the early Eagles' tune, "Take It to the Limit." The duo could've gone for deep Townes Van Zandt or John Prine cuts to show off a bit, but that would've defeated the purpose of the inclusive environment they had worked to create throughout the night.
Both artists provided other welcome surprises aside from the entertaining covers. For the first time during the tour's multi-week run, Rogers played, and simply nailed, the full-band concert favorite "Interstate," which he prefaced by saying he had written the song about his parents who married when they were 18 and are still happily together. Bowen introduced a beautiful new song and, with the harmonica help of Weiters, sent "West Texas Rain" wafting emotively through the beer-raised hands of the reverential audience.
Indeed, last night's Hold My Beer and Watch This show was the stuff of pure country, just delivered by two different artists with two different styles that blended together to craft one hell of a night.