Christian Kane returned to his hometown Friday night with a clutch of rowdy country-rock songs, a seasoned four-piece band and a swaggering stage presence balanced with an overflowing sense of gratitude.
For the Dallas-born, Norman-bred singer/actor, the show at Riverwind Casino marked his first opportunity to play in the city where he grew up, which he considers “the greatest town in the world.”
“You spend your whole life fighting to get out of this town, and trust me – trust me – you spend the rest of your life fighting to get back in,” Kane told the crowd. “I still feel like that 15-year-old kid that sat on the side of my bed and prayed all this stuff would happen to him.”
Kane brought the tough-guy-with-the-heart-of-gold charisma of Eliot Spencer, his TV character on “Leverage,” to his rollicking, bad-boy anthems. And he frequently apologized to his mother, who was in the audience, for his f-bomb-dropping, whiskey-swigging ways.
“Thirteen years I’ve been playing music with these guys … and this is my first time to be back. I’m home tonight. I got family and friends here tonight, and we’re gonna give it all we got,” he said with a boyish grin.
“Mama, I apologize for the whiskey drinking and the cussing, but that (expletive) is gonna go on because this is what we (expletive) do.”
More than 1,000-strong, the crowd filled about two-thirds of the casino’s Showplace Theater, and the concert-goers were feisty, noisy and eager to welcome the hometown boy back to the Sooner State. Any doubts about Kane’s heartthrob status were quickly expelled; the female fans greeted him with amorous enthusiasm as he strolled onto the stage in faded blue jeans, a black button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves and brown work boots.
Playing into their expectations, the up-and-coming country singer-songwriter launched the show with a back-to-back-to-back series of rambunctious come-ons, “American Made,” “Callin’ All Country Women” and “Whiskey in Mind.” He and his capable band – guitarist/background vocalist Steve Carlson, lead guitarist Jason Southard, bassist Will Amend and drummer Ryan Baker – performed together with the easy chemistry of old friends.
After their dynamic opening salvo, Kane began sharing youthful reminiscences and behind-the-lyrics stories with the crowd.
“I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home, man,” Kane said, alternately gulping from a bottle of beer and a fifth of whiskey in between songs. “Norman’s chanced since I’ve been gone.”
Some things have stayed the same: When someone in the audience shouted “Boomer,” Kane and several fans loudly replied “Sooner,” and the performer excitedly told the crowd he would be attending Saturday’s football game against Missouri. He even took time to good-naturedly harangue an Oklahoma State fan.
Still, Kane, 37, said he wrote his “Middle American Saturday Night” tribute “pretty much where this place used to not be.” He crooned about taking a walk down “old Tecumseh Road” on the buoyant ballad “Fade.” With the nostalgic “Let’s Take a Drive,” he pointed out his reference to “10-mile flats,” an area of Norman that is now houses but in his teen years was for “drinking, car racing and fighting.”
“I had a girlfriend from here, and she’s moved off and she got married and she had kids. And then she called me up one day to say she was getting divorced … and to cheer her up, I started talking about the old days,” he said.
“She said, ‘Man, I wish I could find that girl again.’ And I said, ‘Well, I wish you the best of luck’ and hung up because I had to write this song. So I hope she’s doing OK,” he admitted with a sheepish laugh, running his hands through his dark, shoulder-length hair.
Kane poured the emotion of his homecoming into “Something’s Gotta Give,” a raucous country-blues, blue-collar tribute to his father.
“The oil business was tough then like it’s tough now, and I wrote this song about my dad, who always, always took care of us,” he said, drinking a toast to his father before the final chorus.
Kane had plenty of passion left to put into his latest single “Let Me Go,” a soaring love song that showcases his appealing drawl.
To the delight of his diehard fans, who call themselves Kaniacs, the singer-songwriter kept the stories coming, including a humorous take on “Happy Man,” a song he co-wrote that country superstar Trace Adkins cut for the deluxe version of his 2010 album “Cowboy’s Back in Town.”
“When we first wrote it, they said, ‘That’s not a Kane song. That’s a country song. That’s really country.’ And I said, ‘It’s three ways to kill somebody, it’s a (expletive) Kane song.”
Eliot Spencer would be proud.
The crowd gave a hearty cheer for his day job on “Leverage” as Kane recalled the thrill of singing his brokenhearted ballad “Thinking of You” on the hit TNT series on the same episode in which he go to beat up his “all-time TV idol,” John Schneider of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame.
Kane prefaced his amped-up, boot-stomping cover of Waylon Jennings’ classic “Luckenbach, Texas,” with a flashback to the days when he and his cohorts had a regular gig at the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard opening for Shooter Jennings’ band.
“We were the only country band in L.A. … and we couldn’t do ‘The Chair’ and we couldn’t do ‘The Dance.’ I didn’t have a lot of originals, and if you played a slow song, you lost the crowd,” he said. “I told Shooter ‘I’m gonna do one of your dad’s songs,’ and when I told him which one, he said, ‘Good (expletive) luck.’
“After we played it, Scooter’s mom said, ‘That is the best version of that song I’ve ever heard other than the original. And she gave me a hug and she gave me a kiss. And I think I just stood there for five minutes.”
Kane closed the set with another electric jolt: the rowdy title track from his 2010 debut album “The House Rules,” which got most of the floor-level fans on their feet so they could dance and sing along. His deliberately sexed-up performance did the job of whipping his female followers into a frenzy, though he undoubtedly owed his mama another apology for it.
The crowd wasn’t ready to let the hometown hero get away just yet, howling their lungs out, stomping their feet and clapping their hands for an encore. Kane came back alone, carrying his whiskey and beer bottles, which he swapped for his acoustic guitar.
“I wrote this song to apologize for the way I am. I’m sorry mama,” he said, playing and crooning “A Different Kind of Knight,” with his band joining him midway through the modern-day cowboy ode.
They sent the crowd away energized, closing with the one-two punch of “Seven Days,” a Vegas road anthem totally appropriate for a casino show, and “Blaze,” a tribute to a red-headed Oklahoma City stripper.
His mother may have to work on forgiving him, but the crowd thoroughly approved of Kane’s homecoming performance. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by the fans’ ear-splitting enthusiasm, repeatedly pounding his chest, pumping his fists and blowing kisses as he took his final bows.
“You don’t know what this means to me,” he said one last time before disappearing backstage to chat with his mother and sister.
Hopefully, he won’t let another 13 years pass before he plays another hometown show.
See the set list after the break.
Christian Kane homecoming show at Riverwind Casino
“Callin’ All Country Women”
“Whiskey in Mind”
“Middle American Saturday Night”
“Thinking of You”
“Let Me Go”
“Let’s Take a Drive”
“Something’s Gotta Give”
“The House Rules”
“A Different Kind of Knight”