Most performers try to leave you with a party on your mind, but Chris Stapleton had other ideas during his sold-out "All American Road Show" at Starplex on Saturday night.
He came back to the stage for his encore less than two minutes after he finished his over two-hour set. He showed he wasn't tired at all by performing "Either Way" with the same conviction that he played "Might As Well Get Stoned" to open the show.
But it was the searing neo-soul of "Sometimes I Cry" that sealed the deal. Stapleton wanted you thinking of nothing but his voice on your way out of the venue. Mission accomplished.
It wasn't the first time he made the audience sit up and take notice. Make that stand up and take notice. One could count the number of fans on one hand that actually made use of the provided seats. They even stood during his sung introductions of the band, which included just a bassist, a drummer and his wife, singer Morgane.
All the better to see him with, my dear, because those introductions led right into a reading of "Tennessee Whiskey" that was "as sweet as strawberry wine" and rough in all the right places.
Performing under a set piece straight out of Minecraft, Stapleton didn't waste any time launching into his catalog. "Nobody to Blame" set the tone, with Stapleton singing it -- and every other one -- as if he was fronting a choir.
He might as well have been. He was only two songs in when the crowd turned into a chorus, singing as if it was the story of their lives. The choir joined Stapleton for "Broken Halos," a cover of Willie Nelson's "Last Thing I Need, First Thing This Morning" that was like a sigh, "Was It 26" and "Parachute," among many others.
The standout, though, was the old soul wailing of "I Was Wrong," which would sound at home at any R&B show. (D'Angelo, if you're listening, please, please, please cover this.) But wait, there was also the anthemic "Fire Away" and "Traveller."
One of the things that makes Stapleton stand out is his ability to sing -- and play -- most anything to chair-scraping effect. He is only in a genre because of tradition; his voice commands attention, even when he was an opener for megastar Luke Bryan at AT&T stadium last year. Stapleton may wear the well-worn uniform of outlaw country but that fire engine of a voice and that guitar make his music multidimensional.
Let's not even mention his ability to turn "Parachute" into a five-syllable word.
Make a check list of all the musicians he's performed with and he seems equally at home with all of them: his viral performance with Justin Timberlake; with Lyle Lovett, George Strait, Robert Earl Keen and Miranda Lambert during the Hand in Hand concert for hurricane relief; and even with actor Chris Pratt.
Stapleton acknowledged the cold temperature, which dropped in the low 40s, early in his set. But he noted that "we're in this thing together" and instructed his adoring audience to "light this place up," which they did. A couple even got engaged after "Second One to Know."
And did I tell you that "special guest" Marty Stuart, who had performed earlier, came out to tear it up with him?!
Excuse my hyperbole. Chris Stapleton can do that to people, leaving them speaking (and writing) with visible exclamation points even in the face of legendary singer-songwriters.
If he keeps this up, chances are he'll be counted in that number. And, as any gambling outlaw would tell you, that's a good bet.
5 observations from Saturday night:
Stapleton needs room for his voice to roam.
The front seats in the venue were cleared out for a pit. There were fans wearing Halloween costumes and fans wearing the Stapleton costume of jean on jean with a cowboy hat. They needed room to move and they did. One can find themselves lost in the tone of his voice and miss a lyric and then he'll show out by hitting an impossible note and snap you right out of your reverie.
Stapleton takes time to purr.
He effortlessly roared his way through his catalog. But he turned down a bit to play a song from "a new record out Dec. 1" called "Trying to Untangle My Mind." It was akin to when a rapper asks the DJ to stop the music so there's no mistaking what he's saying. He slinked his way through other jams, too, such as a lord-have-mercy reading of "Whiskey and You."
He's an old soul.
Stapleton's music harkens back to a time when soul men such as Otis Redding ruled stages. And a time when blues and country mingled almost to the point of not being able to discern which was which. He's fine in voice and musicianship, comfortable taking on the guise of rawk, rock and roll, blues and soul. Oh, and country. All with chest-thumping bass, especially during "Midnight Train to Memphis." He doesn't do anything easy, and that's a good thing.
He's got 99 problems and whiskey might be one.
Stapleton is a man in conflict. Mostly between "Whiskey and You," and some stems, too. He's in love, but with one too many things. And he's got a song about every one of them. But when an uncalled for "Freebird" morphs into a cloud-scattering "The Devil Named Music" ... oooh, child. Hold my mule.
His beard game is stronger than yours.
"Second One to Know," a song about pleading for someone not to leave inspired someone to say yes to staying together forever. That's game. Like Jordan, Ali, Woods game. Stapleton shrugged: "It's that kinda night," he said. Yes. Yes, it was.