Pork With An Attitude.
It’s impossible to spend any amount of time in Memphis, Tennessee without seeing some reminder that Elvis Presley recorded his first songs there. The city proudly wears the title of ‘the birthplace of rock and roll’. But Thursday night wasn’t about the King of Rock, but of country music royalty. King George and Miss Reba came through town, bringing along Lee Ann Womack and Melissa Peterman for a night of country music hits. The largest portion of the night was dedicated to the impressive span of hits made by George Strait and Reba McEntire, but the evening’s entertainment was as unique as the neon signs on the many barbecue joints that line Beale Street.
Lee Ann Womack performs 'Solitary Thinkin'.
Lee Ann Womack kicked off the extra-long music extravaganza from the three country music stalwarts with a cover of the western swing standard ‘San Antonio Rose’. After running through a set list that could have been her greatest hits disc, the singer ended her half-hour on stage with very strong renditions of her own hits, including her take on Rodney Crowell’s ‘Ashes By Now’ and her mega-hit ‘I Hope You Dance’. I missed her take on Patsy Cline’s ‘She’s Got You’ due to standing in the beer line, but I could see it from the many screens that dotted that halls of the FedEx Forum.
With the longest hit span of any of her tourmates, Reba chose to stick to mostly newer material, with only two 1980s era hits in her entire repertoire this year. The first of these was the opening number, and Reba’s first #1, ‘Can’t Even Get the Blues’. Reba hangs onto the syllables a little longer than the original version from 1982 when she sings it today, and the instruments are certainly more amped up 28 years later too. From that first chart-topper, she launched into her 1996 hit ‘The Fear of Being Alone’ before pausing to chat with the audience.
Reba talks to the audience in Memphis.
Reba did quite a bit of that throughout the show, and the audience seemed to hang onto every word, as they burst into applause at even her cheesiest comments. Mid-way through the nearly 90 minute set from Reba, just as she began talking about her 2001 Broadway role and her six-year sit-com, Reba co-star and current Singing Bee host Melissa Peterman appeared on-stage in a ‘bedazzled’ baby blue George Strait t-shirt, allegedly intoxicated and inclined to sing the show’s theme song as a duet. This has been a staple of Reba’s live show since about the time the sit-com was cancelled, and even seeing it for the fourth time still puts a smile on your face.
‘Somebody Should Leave’ was packed into a medley with ‘For My Broken Heart’ with neither song getting the full treatment. The two classic Reba hits lead to the Grammy-winning duet ‘Does He Love You’ with Lee Ann Womack stepping in to ably supply the vocal originally sang by Linda Davis. I missed a few of my favorite hits, and the focus of her set was obviously on her hits from 1992 to the present with a very generous selection from the new album – 5 songs from it – ‘Consider Me Gone’, ‘Strange’, ‘I’ll Have What She’s Having’, ‘I Want a Cowboy’, and the current single ‘I Keep On Loving You’.
Reba performs 'Fallin' Out of Love'.
The stage at the FedEx Forum was in the round, and this prevented Reba from a large production tour and even from frequent costume changes. Actually, the only time she changed was to shed her jeans and black sparkly tank top for a red dress to offer her encore, the always stunning ‘Fancy’. It’s hard not to love that song when you hear Reba sing it live. She proved she can still stop the show with one of her signature ballads, and she chose a favorite of mine this time out when she launched into a perfect version of 1990’s ‘Fallin’ Out of Love’. Meanwhile, she performed all the audience favorites and concert staples that make a Reba show always entertaining. It’s great to hear Reba can still rattle the rafters as well as tear your heart out, all the while wringing every syllable for all it’s worth. She’s never disappointed me in concert.
George Strait performs 'The Fireman'.
George Strait was the only act on the bill I had yet to see live. And to be perfectly honest, from most of the reviews and other comments I’d heard, I didn’t expect much from him in the way of a live show more than I would get from listening to his box set. Fortunately, I was very pleasantly surprised – though I probably shouldn’t have been as much – by King George’s ability to captivate the audience by just standing there. His banter in between songs and his calls for more applause were subtle but very effective. At one point, he remarked to the left side of the auditorium that they were his favorite side. This obviously resulted in mass applause from the left side. Then, with a sly grin, Strait looked to the right side and said ‘I know y’all can beat that’ as the room exploded with cheers and whistles.
Strait made use of the projectors that ran the perimeter of the arena by lighting the room up while he performed the sing-along favorite ‘Check Yes or No’. He also lit up the arena when the screens were used to simulate flames during ‘The Fireman’. His show was the most visually appealing, and for what it’s worth, has the most production. All of this was just an added benefit to his lengthy set. But after all, he’s got a lengthy list of hits.
Closing the show in Memphis.
He played several old favorites – ‘Amarillo By Morning’, ‘The Chair’, ‘Ocean Front Property’ and reminded us that he’s still a current hit-maker with recent radio heavyweights ‘I Saw God Today’, ‘Give It Away’, and ‘I Hate Everything’. Making sure to tell the audience that “George Harvey Strait Jr., Bubba Strait, wrote this” before he launched into ‘Arkansas Dave’, he also mentioned his new album’s title when he performed its title cut and the current single ‘I Gotta Get to You’. Likewise, he offered a shout-out to the writer of his 2005 hit ‘The Seashores of Old Mexico’, and the mention of Merle Haggard’s name also brought crowd to life. Clearly, country music was alive in Memphis that night.