Blake Shelton started with an apology.
"No doubt about it," he said during his Country Music Freaks tour stop at American Airlines Center on Friday night, "I'm going to need y'all's help tonight." The night before, in Houston, he said he had "played at the peak of the worst flu."
Twenty-seven songs later, everybody else was feeling fine.
Shelton made do, singing songs about the things people love: home, security, the good old days. What you see is what you get with Shelton. That kind of comfort prompts cheers for every move, even when he paused to sip from a cup.
And singing: Fans joined in early for "She's Got a Way With Words." And standing: They stood from the moment he took the stage until the encore of Dave Barnes' "God Made Me You."
Nevertheless, he kept apologizing; he even apologized for singing new material, something that's the basis for most tours.
He even asked permission: "I don't want to be boring, but can I play something new for y'all?"
"I'll Name the Dogs," just on Thursday nominated for an ACM Award for single record of the year, fell a little flat, but "I Lived It" seemed to hit its intended target.
"This is, like, my song," Shelton said in introduction. "It takes me back to when I was growing up."
Shelton surveyed his career, from his first No. 1 ("Austin" in 2001) to that new material that he apologetically delivered to his clones in the audience. Nothing flashy, just jeans, overrun boots and a plaid shirt.
He was all substance, with just enough I-don't-give-a-darn to curry imitation.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Trace Adkins must feel honored, too. He was greeted with a roar when the beat dropped for "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and the screams continued throughout his mini-set that included "You're Gonna Miss This." When Shelton returned to the stage, they sang a few songs together, including crowd favorite "Hillbilly Bone."
The highlight was when they sat down on stools at the end of the stage for what Shelton called "the Dallas, Texas, 2018 song-off." Guitars in hand, they traded barbs and verses on "The More I Drink." And they playfully sang "that other song, the one we're not supposed to do in public," with the refrain that's an epithet that rhymes with "glass bowl."
Adkins feigned annoyance when Blake came in for a bear hug and kissed his idol on the cheek, multiple times, after "Ladies Love Country Boys."
Blake: "I give you a hug and a kiss, you better take it. I'm the 'sexiest man alive' [writer's note: People magazine-approved, in the year of our Lord 2017]."
Adkins: "You're not even the sexiest man on this stage. Let me tell you something, you're not even the sexiest man on The Voice."
Shelton's voice, never the best or the strongest, struggled a bit, of course. He said a doctor in Houston — "a gynecologist, but I don't care" — gave him a shot and his flu went away.
After a well-received "Doing What She Likes," Shelton said "I'm back to myself" but "in my opinion, my voice sucks today."
His voice may have tried to give up during "Drink On It," but the rough edges and breaks lent an aching to his cover of Michael Buble's "Home" that the song doesn't have in its original hands. Shelton had performed it with Buble on reality TV singing competition The Voice, for which he serves as a coach.
If he had the flu just Thursday night, Shelton was well within his rights to reschedule Friday's show. But he pointed out that he was this close to home, so he had to do something special.
"I live right up there on Lake Texoma," he said. And Ada, Okla., was celebrated all night in song, on tour T-shirts and in words.
With the sound in American Airlines Center crystal clear and following great performances by Brett Eldredge and Carly Pearce, Shelton still had to deliver.
There were a few cracks in the ceiling of his voice, but the foundation was solid. Consider this show signed and sealed, and if Shelton's flu is anything like the rest of what's going around, thankfully over.