Sunday, May 1, 2016

He Came, He Sang, He Conquered

The headline pretty well sums up George Strait’s triumphant return to the concert stage in Las Vegas April 22 and 23. The King of Country Music ascended his throne at the center of the T-Mobile Arena and wowed two audiences of nearly 20,000 each. Even though it had been almost two years since his last public concert, he was in top form.

Opening both nights with, “Here For A Good Time,”  he performed 28 of his greatest hits, plus an encore of four Friday and five Saturday. That fifth number was a throaty rendition of Bob Wills’s, “Milk Cow Blues.” I thought Ethel, aka Annette, was going to melt into a puddle and I’d have to mop her up and wring her out into a bucket to get her back to the hotel. Of course, she was already pretty darn drippy from having touched his hand four times as he walked to the arena stage Friday. That was the night we had floor seats on the seventh row.

Ethel wasn’t the only woman melting. Women of all ages, wearing flip flops, tank tops, tee-shirts and fancy boots, screamed, “I love you, George,” and swooned over every note he sang and every gesture he made. By the time he ended each set with, “That Woman I Had Wrapped Around My Finger Just Came Unwound,” almost every woman there had done the same.

It wasn’t just the women who came unwound. Men were singing along with The King, too. Saturday we had cheaper seats in an upper tier. A man in front of me, probably in his mid-forties, turned to his date right after they sat down and mouthed, “I’m the Fireman,” pointing to his own chest. At the end of several songs he performed a ceremonial bow by standing, bending forward at the waist and waving his arms up and down. When George sang, “Check Yes or No,”  he and his girlfriend sang along while looking into each other’s eyes. I thought I was gonna barf.

The woman sitting to my left Saturday said her about-to-turn-20 daughter told her, “I don’t care how old he is, I’d marry him (George) in a minute.” That same night, I showed some 40-something women behind me a few photos I had taken Friday, and they nearly fainted over my “butt shots.” George has that effect on women of all ages.

The stage was square, with a microphone at each corner. Floor seats were angled in such a way that not everyone got to see him full in the face, even though he sang several songs at each mike. But he did turn aside often, and there really isn’t a bad view of The King, so that was okay with Lucy and Ethel.

A highlight both nights was George doing a three-song tribute to the late Merle Haggard, who died about two weeks before these concerts. While George sang, “Mama Tried,” “Fightin’ Side of Me” and “My Life’s Been Grand,” scenes from The Hag’s life flashed on the giant overhead screens. The audience went wild.

He didn’t do my favorite song, one that he wrote and recorded two versions of,  “I Can’t Go On Dying Like This.” But “Unwound” is another favorite, so I was a happy camper. Of course, he did “Cheyenne," “How ‘Bout Them Cowgirls,” “Blame It On Mexico,” “Blue Clear Sky,” “The Chair,” “Amarillo By Morning,” “All My Exes Live in Texas” and several others. When he performed “Troubadour,” scenes from one of his few music videos flashed on the screens. It was poignant to see him with his daughter, Jenifer, who died in a car wreck in1986 at 13. When he walked away after each performance, thousands of cell phones were waving in the air on flashlight mode, like candles flickering in the dark.

Some fans we met Sunday said they thought George was more relaxed Saturday night, suggesting he might have been a tad nervous Friday about getting back on stage. That’s hard to fathom, given his experience, but it might explain why I thought his voice had a higher timbre Friday than Saturday. I had attributed the difference to hearing him in person versus on a CD. Didn’t matter, though, because he sounded GREAT both nights, damn strait!

I guess I need to say something about the warm-up act, Kacey Musgraves. Wearing what came across as a majorette costume, she walked toward the stage each night leading a miniature horse. I had never heard of her, but a quick internet search after I got home revealed that she has two critically acclaimed CDs to her credit on the Mercury label, “Same Trailer, Different Park” and “Pageant Material.” She is a very talented singer and songwriter, but she did an hour show, and half that would have been plenty. George’s fans didn’t need warming up. We were already pretty hot just knowing The King was about to appear.

Saturday’s show would have been much more enjoyable if two women behind us had not screamed in our ears during the entire concert. They often drowned out George’s voice. One in particular almost blew the batteries out of Ethel’s hearing aids. I turned around and told her that if she didn’t confine her screaming to the applause times, I was going to break her legs. She grabbed my hand with her free one (the other held a plastic cup of beer that was as tipsy as she was), laughed and continued making Lucy, Ethel and the woman to my left cover our ears.

All in all, though, it was a great experience. It was the first time Lucy and Ethel had seen The King in concert. It won’t be the last. 

Long live the King!

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