Still ‘Watching Airplanes,’ country’s Gary Allan back in Reno

Tahoe Onstage
Gary Allan’s appearance last year was unforgettable. Photo by Sherrie Oilar / Tahoe Onstage

Editor’s note: Real country’s Gary Allan returns to the Sierra at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno. He appeared last fall in Sparks, and correspondent Mike Wolcott filed this review:

First things first: If you’re among the ever-growing segment of the population that believes real country music died with Merle Haggard in 2016,  you are hereby ordered to take the Tahoe Onstage Gary Allan Challenge.

The challenge goes like this:

1. Find a copy of Gary Allan’s fifth album, 1999’s “See If I Care.”

2. Select the eighth track, a non-single called “Guys Like Me.”

3. If your speakers only go to 10, turn it up to 11.

And by the time Allan gets to the line that goes “All that’s left in Bakersfield is a jukebox and it’s haunted by old songs and memories,” if you don’t feel the ghost of Buck Owens kicking your spine with a red, white and blue boot, you never had a country soul to begin with.

And if that doesn’t work, try watching him sing the song in concert.

While it’s true the country music industry has often (in the words of the song) tried to put an end to guys like Gary Allan — meaning, guys who rely on actual talent, musicianship and great songs instead of flashy Music Row marketing and that awful country/hip-hop mashup-stuff that dominates the airwaves these days — he remains just too darned talented to go away without one big fight. And, as evidenced by Friday night’s 24-song concert at the Grand Ballroom, he’s not likely to actually have a hard time finding a place to play his guitar anytime soon.

Allan mixed songs from his 11-album, multi-platinum career spanning more than two decades and had the crowd — especially the female half — eating out of the palm of his hand from the beginning. There were times that the front-row area felt more like a Tom Jones concert than a country music show; in fact, the first bra of the evening appeared on stage during the sixth song, “Man To Man.” (Perhaps “Mammary to Mammary” would have been more appropriate.)

Working with a tight seven-piece band in their first show after more than a month off, Allan had the crowd on its feet with the opening number, “Man of Me,” and hit the first early climax with one of his biggest hits, “Nothin’ On But the Radio.” The first half of the show was also highlighted by his smoldering hit single “Smoke Rings In the Dark,” an always powerful song that seemed even more sultry in such a vintage casino setting.

It was the second half of the show where Allan really showed he still has a lot of surprises left in the tank. Performing solo on acoustic guitar for the first time all night, he sang a new song called “Unfiltered” that actually had much of the crowd singing along the second time they heard the chorus. That’s quite a rare feat for a song none of them had heard before that night.

“That sounds like a hit single to me,” Allan said, adding he’d just turned the song in to his record company a week ago.

He followed that up with a Waylon Jennings cover, “Her Man,” and rocked hard on “It Ain’t the Whiskey” and “Mess Me Up,” which was the 17th song he played in the first hour of the show – a number pretty typical of his fast-paced performances.

“Watching Airplanes,” probably Allan’s most popular song, brought the main portion of the show to a close, and “Alright Guy,” his hit version of the Todd Snider song, kicked off the encore. It was probably the only time all night where the male voices singing in the audience came across with the same volume as the women.

“Right Where I Need to Be” closed the encore, with Allan spending at least 10 extra minutes signing autographs and exchanging high-fives from the stage as a never-ending swarm of fans kept pushing closer, creating one challenge after another for a security crew that definitely earned its money on this evening.

Mike Wolcott

ABOUT Mike Wolcott

Mike Wolcott
Mike Wolcott is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record. His proudest musical moment came when he was scolded by Who bassist John Entwistle for making too much noise at a Roger Daltrey concert. He especially likes classic rock, classic old-time country, Jimmy Buffett, Bob Dylan and all three Hanks. Parsons calls him “Wally.” When he’s not slaying deadlines, you can find Wally playing guitar in a Corning-based cover band called Punches the Clown.

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