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Brooding cowboy Gary Allan delivers strong, varied show at Erie County Fair

Two Erie County Fair-related understatements appropriate for Wednesday evening: one could locate a few delectable deep-fried treats on the Midway; and country singer-songwriter Gary Allan is a brooding man.

Allan, along with his band of country-rocking fellows, played a string of his deep-feeling hits on the Grandstand Stage in support of his ninth release, “Set You Free.”

Setting the tone of his set with “Tough Goodbye,” Allan growled out the love-her-and-slip-out-the-back-door-style” lyrics while pondering what might have been, when he could possibly settle down. The band pounded through the peppy melody while Allan moseyed about looking very much the part of the dangerous character. He’s more singer than guitar player, but is a constant magnet for the gaze.

Excellent and unwavering rhythm guitarist Tim Galloway came up to the lip of the stage to deliver the steaming parts of “A Feelin’ Like That,” as the pedal steel and organ kicked up the beat. Allan looked like a CW superhero as he thumped his chest singing, “I got lightning in my veins, thunder in my chest.” The song, about a longing from the road, was followed by “Right Where I Need to Be,” one of Allan’s more overt love songs.

As he introduced his “first number one,” “Man to Man,” a lyrical beat-down of a former fellow suitor, he commented that it was “nice to play where it’s not hot.”

“YOU’RE HOT!” screamed a lady directly behind me.

Both Allan and his rollicking opener, Josh Thompson, commented appreciatively on the lovely ladies in the crowd, speaking of hotness. “You’ve got beautiful girls out here,” Allan hollered from the stage.

It was on to his “first song ever released, in 1995, a Waylon Jennings cover. Most people don’t know it,” Allan stated. “Her Man,” a song of a man, somewhat convincingly, leaving behind a wild life on the road swears, “I’ve been a wild catter and a go-go getter, been an SOB right down to the letter.” The song ended with a clinching beautiful duet of the organ and drums and it was on to Allan’s driving “It Ain’t the Whiskey,” one of his signature songs about hard living/loving.

“Smoke Rings in the Dark” and “Sand in My Soul,” back-to-back, introduced the fiddle prowess of Levi Dennis-David, used to further voice the pain inherent in both songs’ lyrics. Suddenly, the band was back to a ’60s surf beat and Allan marvelously sang Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” which became an organ-infused, pained and more upbeat tune. As he flicked guitar picks to his fans, a smile was nearly detected.

He expressed much gratitude to his fans during “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” a set high point. Hard guy Allan smiled as he began the contemplative “One More Time,” a tribute to his father.

Josh Thompson, who opened for Allan, just may be the hardest-swilling man in show business, with several party songs about drinking, sipping and head banging. “Where are my beer-drinking people? Where’s all my rednecks tonight?” he shouted to the grandstand to revelatory shouts.

His take on a love song, “Cold Beer With Your Name On It,” got a huge ovation, beers held up in solid approval.

Thompson and band’s cover of the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” was unforgettable with its reinterpretation imbued with honky-tonk swagger. He ended his set cheering the fans with his own cup of beer aloft.

concert review

Who: Garry Allan

When: Wednesday night

Where: Erie County Fair, Hamburg