By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star
Vince Gill took the Carlsen Center stage thanking the sold-out house for spending their Thursday night with him. “I understand y’all are busy tomorrow night,” he said, alluding to KU’s pending Friday night game against Richmond.
Two and a half hours later a delirious fan repaid the courtesy, calling out “It was a good Thursday night.” It would be foolish to disagree. Between the salutation and response, Gill delivered a cascade of hits, album tracks, stories and jokes.After opening with what he called a “drinkin’ song” (the No. 1 hit “One More Chance”), a “leavin’ song” (the No. 2 “Take Your Memory With You”) and a song about dying (“Tryin’ To Get Over You,” another No. 1 hit), Gill announced it was time for a cheating song. Before starting “Pocket Full of Gold,” however, Gill asked if there was anyone in the crowd with someone they shouldn’t be … then he turned the house lights up.
It was that kind of night. Whenever the music got too serious, like the achingly sincere “I Still Believe In You,” where Gill name checks wife Amy Grant in the chorus, he would immediately deflate the atmosphere with laughter. After the classic ballad “Look At Us,” Gill told the story of a couple married 69 years, about to divorce. Asked why they would give up now after so much time together they replied that they had only planned on staying together until their children were dead.
After complaining about eating too much Oklahoma Joe’s BBQ before the show, one female fan shouted that Gill should have gone to Jackstack. After contemplating the suggestion for the briefest of moments, Gill countered with the good-natured inquiry “Well how big a gal are you?” Then he explained his all-you-should-eat restaurant concept, were patrons are weighed upon entering and then served nutritionally appropriate portions.
For all the storytelling, however, the focus always remained on the music. Every member of Gill’s eight-piece band had been with him for several decades, and it showed. Although the ensemble could expertly echo the arrangements that made Gill’s songs hits, they were at their best when given room to stretch out. The bluegrass number “High Lonesome Sound” found Gill taking a guitar solo before passing the solo onto another band member. By the time the song was done half the group had soloed. On the closer “Liza Jane,” Gill let his band ride the Southern boogie groove, suggesting they could probably find a new audience on the jam band circuit.
Surrounded by great musicians, Gill was clearly the best artist onstage. The 22 songs performed ranged from Southern rock to jazz, adult contemporary to gospel and both traditional and contemporary country, all stemming from his pen. His guitar solos reinforced the lyrics, be it the tasteful, restrained solo in “Tryin’ To Get Over You” or the free-for-all that ended “Pretty Little Adriana.” Gill and his band sounded like the Allman Brothers by the end of that one. Gill announced the homage as intentional when he quoted a few bars of “Jessica” as the song wound down.
The evening’s centerpiece was a lengthy remembrance of Gill’s father, a man who dressed like a lawyer by day, but was more often found in his favorite outfit: ball cap, overalls (no shirt), cigarette and chaw. Gill remembered his father as a tough man who liberally doled out corporal punishment, but was his son’s biggest supporter once Gill left home.
The tribute set up a song idea by Gill’s father that Gill and Rodney Crowell finally completed years after Gill’s father had died. Released the duo’s Notorious Cherry Bombs album, Gill had a hard time explaining to his wife and mother – the song’s subject – why he found a song titled “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long)” so hilarious. Like the rest of the evening, that lighthearted moment was immediately balanced by “Key To Life” the poignant song Gill wrote about his father after his death. Either way, Gill prospered.
Setlist: One More Chance; Take Your Memory With You; Tryin’ To Get Over You; Pocket Full of Gold; High Lonesome Sound; Don’t Let Our Love Start Slippin’ Away; I Still Believe In You; Some Things Never Get Old; Faint of Heart; What the Cowgirls Do; Next Big Thing; Look At Us; This Old Guitar and Me; Pretty Little Adriana; If You Ever Have Forever In Mind; It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night (That Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long); Key to Life; Go Rest High on that Mountain; When I Call Your Name; Oklahoma Borderline. Encore: Whenever You Come Around; Liza Jane.