The Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf wasn't the only Western New York stage cranking out turn-of-the-'90s "urban contemporary" music Thursday night.
While Salt-N-Pepa paraded the hits to an overflowing audience at Thursday at the Harbor, country star Blake Shelton was covering Bobby Brown's "My Prerogative" to a near sold-out Buffalo.com Grandstand at the Erie County Fair.
That the Oklahoman Shelton would cover such a pop hit -- part of a suite of covers wrapped within an engaging, extended story about growing up in a family full of a wide range of musical tastes -- should surprise no one who knows him as one of the vocal coaches on the NBC singing competition show, "The Voice."
That it was done so well alongside similarly nailed renditions of Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music" and upcoming Harbor headliner J. Geils Band's "Centerfold," might still come as a surprise. But that really happened, too, early on in a winning 90 minutes with which Shelton made a solid statement for the much-maligned marriage of country and pop.
A few of Shelton's songs come off as more marketing than music -- such as the title track of his 2010 EP "Hillbilly Bone" and its following cut, "Kiss My Country Ass," both of which were played late in Thursday's set -- but he offered plenty of classic country and everyman aplomb to satisfy the old school and connect with the masses.
Opening with the shallow, chart-topping carpe diem call of "All About Tonight," Shelton and his steady seven-piece band followed with another No. 1 hit in the ballad "She Wouldn't Be Gone," his baritone bending notes with the best of 'em in the chorus about a heartburn harder than a bloomin' onion. "Some Beach" served country perfection -- simple stories about seeking escape from frustrating everyday occurrences leading to the title's witty wordplay that Jimmy Buffett probably wishes he thought of first.
In one of many moments of fun off-script banter, Shelton called out a couple in front after the brooding outlaw-style arrangement of the self-described "prison dog" tale "Ol' Red," suggesting to a blushing man that it was the wrong song to make a move on his lady, and that he hold her hands and sing to her the next song, the ribald ballad "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking."
Such interaction serves the notion that Shelton is every bit the "everyman" that the masses seek in a country superstar, and no matter how much the purists pout, the probable premise is that most Average Joe's would be happy to cut a pandering pop song or sit in a reality TV hot-seat for the sake of stardom.
That he is so sincerely grateful for, and clearly capable of, standing in the spotlight at the top of his genre suggests that Shelton stands to be there for a long time.